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Elliott: NLS Wildcats' family ties run deep

The Dreier, Rich and Hanson families make up a lot of the No. 1-ranked and unbeaten New London-Spicer girls basketball program

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New London-Spicer head coach Mike Dreier gives out defensive instructions during the Section 3AA-North championship game on March 3, 2021 against Eden Valley-Watkins from Willmar High School. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune.
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NEW LONDON — Every high school sports team tries to call itself a family. It’s easy to see why.

You spend a lot of time together. You work together, sweat together, laugh together and sometimes share tears together.

The analogy generally works.

On the New London-Spicer girls basketball team, the Wildcats have taken it a step further. There are several actual family connections, the kind you almost only see in small towns.

There’s Mike Dreier, of course. He’s in his 43rd season leading the program and is the state’s all-time winningest coach.

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The Wildcats are back in the state tournament with an unbeaten record and ranked No. 1 in the state heading into Saturday’s seeding meeting, where a first-round opponent will be determined.

There’s Mike’s son Joey Dreier, NLS’ assistant coach. And there’s Vonnie Dreier, Mike’s wife and Joey’s mother. She keeps the official scorebook for Wildcats games.

“My mom’s been doing it for 40 years,” Joey Dreier said.

But it’s deeper than that.

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Tom Elliott Erica Dischino/West Central Tribune

There is the Rich family. Not only are Earl Rich’s four daughters all team members, but Mike Dreier also was Earl Rich’s foster parent when he was in high school.

The compelling story of Earl Rich and daughters Mackenzie, Courtney, Avery and Dakota and their connection to Mike Dreier was recently aired on KARE11-TV in Minneapolis. It’s worth a watch if you’re internet-inclined, which Mike Dreier isn’t. Handling chores like emails is one of Joey’s duties.

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But NLS, those aren’t the only family connections. The Hanson sisters, Ellie and Delaney, are on the team. And no, they aren’t related to Emma Hanson, another key player on the team.

And the Dreier family connections go even deeper in the Wright County Conference. Annandale, one of NLS’ rivals, is coached by Matt Dreier.

Yes, you guessed correctly. Matt is Joey’s brother. Mike and Vonnie are Matt’s parents.

Seedings Saturday

As the year-long pandemic stretches into more than a year, the girls basketball state tournament will be different, too.

Coaches will fill out a form with their seeds for the eight state entrants, then have a video meeting Saturday morning in which seeds will be announced.

The state seeds will be broken up into two pods, based on geography. NLS, the Section 3AA champ, will be seeded with sections 1AA, 2AA and 4AA. Sections 5AA through 8AA will be done separately.

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Who’s in for the AA tournament: Lake City (19-3) in 1AA, Glencoe-Silver Lake (18-4) in 2AA, NLS (21-0) in 3AA and Minnehaha Academy (17-3) in 4AA.

GSL, of course, is a member of the Wright County Conference. The Wildcats beat them twice during the regular season.

In the other pod, it’s Providence Academy (20-1) in 5AA, Albany (21-1) representing 6AA, Esko (16-3) in 7AA and Pelican Rapids (20-1) in 8AA.

The quarterfinals are either March 30 and 31 at neutral sites, most likely high school gyms that make sense geographically for the two teams involved.

The semifinals and championship are April 6-10 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

BBE hopes for a seed

Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa head girls basketball coach Kristina Anderson was grateful the Jaguars qualified for the state tournament last year. BBE finished 19-11 and went unseeded, losing to Cromwell-Wright 67-58 in the quarterfinals when the state tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.

This year, the Jaguars’ aspirations are higher.

“We’re hoping for a No. 1 seed, especially with Henning out,” Anderson said. “We’ll see.”

BBE is 21-1. It’s only loss is 44-38 to No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Minneota. Minneota, though, is in the opposite pod.

Here are the state entrants in Class A:

There’s BBE from Section 5A, West Central Area (17-5) in 6A, Mountain Iron-Buhl (18-4) in 7A and Cass Lake-Bena (16-5) in 8A. West Central beat Henning 64-53 in the 6A final.

In the other pod, the teams are Houston (18-0) in 1A, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s (22-0) in 2A, Minneota (22-0) in 3A and Mayer Lutheran (19-2) in 4A.

The pairings will be announced Saturday.

McDonald’s finalists

BOLD’s Drew Sagedahl is the lone West Central Tribune area player among the 30 semifinalists for the McDonald Award, which goes to Minnesota’s outstanding senior boys basketball player.

This one’s different from Mr. Basketball and controlled by Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association.

Also on the list are notable opponents to area teams. That includes Alexandria guard Colton Roderick, a University of Minnesota football recruit.

Also on list: Brainerd forward Griffin Rushin; Eden Valley-Watkins forward Josh Streit and Melrose forward Rowan Nelson. Rushin is headed to St. John’s University in College. Streit is a North Dakota State recruit.

The favorite is Minnehaha Academy 7-footer Chet Holmgren, who is ranked as the No. 1 player in the nation by several recruiting sites.

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New London-Spicer senior guard Mackenzie Rich fires a 3-pointer during the Section 3AA championship game Thursday, March 25, 2021 against Redwood Valley from Montevideo High School. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

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