While there was only a short time to prove it, the best of the best in west central Minnesota girls basketball took a step up in 2021.

When teams finally took the court on Jan. 14, the top-tier teams in the area made progress. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa made the Class A championship game for the first time in school history. New London-Spicer was undefeated in the regular season, ranked No. 1 in Class AA for much of the year and made it to the Target Center in the state semifinals.

Elsewhere around the area, Montevideo made an eight-game improvement in five fewer games.

Even with a new head coach, Lac qui Parle Valley won the Camden Conference North Division for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

Willmar and BOLD finished in the top three of their respective conferences, cementing their places as tough outs for any team in the Central Lakes and West Central.

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This season, the West Central Tribune’s All-Area Girls Basketball team had eight seniors in the mix for the final time. Half of those are from NLS, which leads the area with four selections. In total, 10 schools are represented among the three teams.

The West Central Tribune’s All-Area Girls Basketball Team was selected by the sports department based on nominations provided by area coaches.

Here is the All-Area Girls Basketball Team, presented in alphabetical order:

First Team

Emma Hanson, sr. 5-8 F, NLS

One of the returners to the All-Area team is New London-Spicer senior forward Emma Hanson, who was a first-teamer as a junior and second-teamer as a sophomore.

A four-time All-Wright County West pick, Hanson capped off her prep career with 10.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game in helping NLS to a 22-1 record and a spot in the Class AA state semifinals. Hanson was also named Academic All-State.

Emma Hanson
Emma Hanson

As part of a celebrated senior class, Hanson and her Wildcat teammates have won three straight Wright County West titles, going undefeated in conference play the last two seasons. NLS went 52-3 the last two seasons and 120-22 during Hanson’s four years on varsity.

“(Emma) played bigger than her size, which made her effective anywhere on the court,” said Wildcats head coach Mike Dreier. “Excellent all-around player.”

Mackenzie Jones, sr. 5-9 G, Willmar

A two-time All-Area first teamer, Willmar senior guard Mackenzie Jones cemented herself as one of the top players in Class AAA.

Named to the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Association’s Class AAA All-State team after being an honorable mention as a junior, Jones had averages of 16 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 3 assists per game while helping the Cardinals to a 15-5 record in 2021. Jones was also named All-Central Lakes Conference and was team MVP as a senior and junior. Jones was chosen to play in the MGBCA All-Star Series on April 24.

Mackenzie Jones
Mackenzie Jones

Jones is committed to play college basketball at Division II Southwest Minnesota State University.

“Mackenzie is one of the most competitive players I have ever coached,” said Cardinals head coach Dustin Carlson. “She hated to lose no matter if it were a game or a drill at practice. Whatever Kenzie was putting her time into, she wanted to be the best. It showed on the court every night when she would give 100% effort no matter the score. Kenzie is known for her shooting range. Anything inside the half-court line is fair game for her to pull the trigger. But what makes her such a tough player to defend is her willingness to attack the rim and get to the foul line. This year she added rebounding to her arsenal of weapons as she averaged over eight rebounds per game.”

BBE senior Allisa Knight (42) puts up a jumper over Minneota's Abby Hennen during the Class A state championship game on Friday, April 9, 2021 at the Target Center. 

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
BBE senior Allisa Knight (42) puts up a jumper over Minneota's Abby Hennen during the Class A state championship game on Friday, April 9, 2021 at the Target Center. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Allisa Knight, sr. 6-0 F, BBE

As a junior, Allisa Knight helped Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa break the glass ceiling with the program’s first state trip. In her final season, Knight was the driving force for the Jaguars to reach the Class A state championship game.

A Class A All-State selection, Knight was also named the Central Minnesota Conference’s MVP after averaging 15.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. In two games at the Target Center, Jones had 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in the Class A semis against Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s, followed by 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in the finals against Minneota.

Allisa Knight
Allisa Knight

Knight will continue her basketball career in college at Division II Minnesota State University-Moorhead.

“Allisa stepped up her game this year to be a leader on this team,” said Jaguars head coach Kristina Anderson. “She was a great shot blocker, finishes well around the basket shooting 60% from the field and has a great mid-range game. Allisa has great skills and will only get better throughout her collegiate career at MSUM.”

Montevideo's Avery Koenen hits a basket over the defense during a West Central Conference game against Minnewaska on Monday, March 8, 2021 from Montevideo High School. 

Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune
Montevideo's Avery Koenen hits a basket over the defense during a West Central Conference game against Minnewaska on Monday, March 8, 2021 from Montevideo High School. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

Avery Koenen, so. 6-1 P, Montevideo

The youngest member of the first team, Montevideo sophomore post Avery Koenen was a main factor in the biggest turnaround in the west central area.

A Class AA All-State honorable mention, Koenen averaged 22 points per game along with 11.4 rebounds and 3 assists. She was also named the West Central Conference’s MVP after helping the Thunder Hawks to second place in the WCC with a 14-5 record. In 2020, Montevideo was 6-18.

Avery Koenen
Avery Koenen

“Avery is a very talented basketball player who can score inside and outside,” said Thunder Hawks head coach Anthony Jackson. “She is a full-court player who is very dynamic in the open court. She also brings a great attitude on the court every single day.”

Litchfield senior guard Sydney McCann goes up for a layup during a Wright County Conference game against Rockford on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 from Litchfield High School. 

Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune
Litchfield senior guard Sydney McCann goes up for a layup during a Wright County Conference game against Rockford on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 from Litchfield High School. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

Sydney McCann, sr. 5-8 G, Litchfield

A newcomer to the All-Area team, Litchfield senior guard Sydney McCann will go down as one of the top playmakers in school history.

A Class AA All-State honorable mention, McCann had averages of 11 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the 13-7 Dragons. She also is a three-time unanimous All-Wright County West selection and was named team MVP.

Sydney McCann
Sydney McCann

McCann owns the school record for career assists (466) while also sitting in the top five in points (1,112) and rebounds (659).

“Sydney was the best player on a good Litchfield team,” said Dragons head coach Ian Anderson. “She was able to create great looks for herself and her teammates consistently. Her numbers and accolades are outstanding thanks to her skill level and longevity and she’s been a staple in our backcourt for four-plus years.”

Second Team

Ella Bourne, jr. 5-5 G, MACCRAY

Running the point for MACCRAY, junior guard Ella Bourne helped the Wolverines to a 10-7 record, cementing the school’s first winning record since 2017. Bourne was named All-Camden Conference for the second time after averaging 17.3 points, 3.8 steals, 2.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. She also set a MACCRAY school record with nine steals in a game.

Ella Bourne
Ella Bourne

From Wolverines head coach Shaun Condon: “Ella probably improved more than anyone in the area. She went from 10 ppg to 17.3 ppg and went from shooting 26% from 3-point to 35% this season. She was our most consistent offensive threat and was a lot to handle for our opponents. She also had the responsibility of guarding the other team’s best player and averaged an outstanding 3.8 steals per game.”

Coco Duininck, jr. 5-6 G, CMCS

Though just a junior, Central Minnesota Christian’s Coco Duininck has been a constant on the All-Area team, making the first team as a sophomore and second team as a freshman. Named the Camden North MVP this season, Duininck averaged a conference-high 23.3 points per game to go with 4.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 5.0 steals per game for the 11-8 Bluejays. With 1,568 career points, Duininck became CMCS’s all-time leading scorer — both girls and boys — this season.

Coco Duininck
Coco Duininck

From Bluejays head coach Mike Mulder: “Coco is an excellent all-around basketball player. She is quick and headsy on both ends of the court. On defense, her all-around quickness and anticipation has led to a lot of steals. Coco is a threat beyond the arc, driving to the basket and feeding teammates to score. Overall, she is a floor leader who doesn’t back down from a challenge having opponents focused on stopping her each night.”

Mackenzie Rich, sr. 5-7 G, NLS

Making second team All-Area for the second straight year, Mackenzie Rich made teams pay from the outside when they got too focused on guarding New London-Spicer’s bigs in the post. A three-time All-Wright County West pick and an Academic All-State selection, Rich averaged 12.2 points (with 56 3-pointers on the season), 4.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.

Mackenzie Rich
Mackenzie Rich

From Wildcats head coach Mike Dreier: “(Mackenzie) developed into a prime-time player, averaging 18.5 points per game during the postseason tournaments. Could score on the drive and hit deep downtown threes.”

Erin Knisley, sr. 6-2 C, NLS

A three-time All-Wright County West selection, New London-Spicer senior Erin Knisley proved to be a challenge in the post for any opposing team. In her final season, Knisley averaged 14.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.

Erin Knisley
Erin Knisley

From Wildcats head coach Mike Dreier: “Erin became a force inside, offensively and defensively.”

Taylor Shelstad, so. 5-10 G, LQPV

A third team All-Area selection in 2020, Lac qui Parle Valley’s Taylor Shelstad made the jump to the second team after helping the Eagles (15-5) to the Camden North division championship. Shelstad averaged 15.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.5 assists per game while earning All-Camden honors for the second straight season.

Taylor Shelstad
Taylor Shelstad

From Eagles head coach Dylan Erickson: “Taylor is a complete basketball player. SHe does it on both ends of the court, she will defend the opposing best player and handle the ball and get us going on offense. She is a great team leader and teammates look to her.”

Third Team

Abby Berge, so. 5-10 G, BBE

13.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 spg, 1.8 apg. All-Central Minnesota Conference first team, CMC All-Academic, Team Most Improved.

Abby Berge
Abby Berge

From Jaguars head coach Kristina Anderson: “Abby Berge is a long guard who defends well and also can put up big numbers offensively. Abby is a great rebounder and continually got better throughout each game this season. She always got the task of guarding the other team’s top player and did a great job holding those players below their season averages.”

Mari Ryberg, so. 5-10 G, BOLD

15.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.3 spg, 2.7 apg. All-West Central Conference, Team MVP.

Mari Ryberg
Mari Ryberg

From Warriors head coach Brian Kingery: “Mari helped lead the BOLD Warriors to a 10-5 record and the sub-section runner-up title. Mari is a very good two-way basketball player. On offense, she is a guard that likes to attack the hoop while being able to step outside and hit the three. On defense, she uses her length and athleticism to cause havoc in the passing lanes.”

Maret Gjerde, sr. 5-9 G, KMS

14.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 20.0 spg. All-Camden Conference. Team MVP.

Maret Gjerde
Maret Gjerde

From Fighting Saints head coach Justin Johnson: “Maret is a great shooter from the outside but is also dangerous off the dribble and getting to the basket or drawing fouls. She was the leader of our team handling the point guard position. She is a very good on-ball defender often asked to guard the opponent’s best player. Maret is a well-rounded player that we have relied heavily on for four years now.”

Jaida Reiman, jr. 5-8 W/G, Willmar

10.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2 spg, 1.9 apg. All-Central Lakes Conference.

Jaida Reiman
Jaida Reiman

From Cardinals head coach Dustin Carlson: “Jaida is the prototype of a basketball player. She can play nearly any position on the floor with her length, speed and toughness. Jaida is the type of kid who will do anything for her team to be more successful. She always guarded one of the top kids on the opposing team. Offensively, Jaida increased her outside shooting ability and found ways to score off the dribble She can be a matchup nightmare with her quickness and length for opposing teams.”

Ava Kraemer, sr. 6-0 F, NLS

8.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg. Two-time All-Wright County West, Academic All-State.

Ava Kraemer
Ava Kraemer

From Wildcats head coach Mike Dreier: “(Ava is) relentless on the boards — as good of a rebounder as I’ve coached. Excellent high-post passer and effective scorer from the low or high post.”