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Girls Basketball: Nerves still stir tourney-tested Wildcats

MINNEAPOLIS--New London-Spicer's girls basketball team is in the state tournament for the fourth time in five years but that doesn't mean the bright lights don't still bring some butterflies to the Wildcats before each game.

From left, New London-Spicer's Kabrie Weber, Shea Oman, Erin Tebben, Brooke Beuning and Morgan Swenson celebrate their 48-43 win over Esko in the Class AA Minnesota State Girls Basketball Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. Curt Hogg / Tribune
From left, New London-Spicer's Kabrie Weber, Shea Oman, Erin Tebben, Brooke Beuning and Morgan Swenson celebrate their 48-43 win over Esko in the Class AA Minnesota State Girls Basketball Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. Curt Hogg / Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS-New London-Spicer's girls basketball team is in the state tournament for the fourth time in five years but that doesn't mean the bright lights don't still bring some butterflies to the Wildcats before each game.

All five starters on this year's team played substantial minutes on last year's Class AA runner-up team but when senior forward Kabrie Weber warmed up before Wednesday's game she's quick to admit she felt nervous.

"Oh, I was nervous at first," Weber said. "No matter how many times you come here you always get excited and feel how special it is. You can't get tired of that feeling."

Her coach, Mike Dreier, is in his 17th state tournament and has 892 career wins under his belt after Wednesday's 48-43 victory over Esko. Even with his experience, he agreed with Weber.

"Every trip here is with a different group of kids," Dreier said. "It's very, very rewarding to see the excitement and the happiness that they have to succeed here. It's quite a trip. It's fun."

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It would seem the experience in a big arena would make a difference but the Eskomos weren't rookies at the state tournament either. Esko has earned a spot in the tournament three out of the last four years and has made the trip a total of 12 times.

NLS and Esko have played in the tournament a combined 29 times.

Weber said last year's time on the big stage helped her overcome the nerves as soon as the game started on Wednesday.

"Once the game got going I felt comfortable," Weber said. "It caught back up with us in the first half but I think having been there before makes a big difference."

The five experienced starters for the Wildcats played the majority of the minutes on Wednesday but underclassmen Sam Johnson, Ashton Engelke and Emma Hanson each came up with big shots and played solid defense throughout the playoff run, including the game against Esko.

"We have a lot of girls contributing at different times," Dreier said. "That's what a team is all about."

That team mentality that often leads to four or five double-digit scorers could be the difference in this year's state tournament for the Wildcats. In 17 trips to state, Dreier and the Wildcats have come out on top twice and were runners-up six times, including last season. Their semifinal opponent on Friday will be top-seeded Roseau which is making a fifth trip to the state tournament.

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