The Hayfield girls basketball team went into last year's Section Two, Class AA tournament with a bit of a Rodney Dangerfield complex -- the Vikings didn't get any respect.

So they went about earning it.

Seeded last in the nine-team East Division of the 2AA tournament, Hayfield reeled off four straight wins to claim the sub-section title. The Vikings' wild postseason ride ended in the section finals with a 42-33 loss to St. James, which was 24-1 and top-ranked at the time.

``We felt going in that we were capable of winning some games,'' Hayfield coach Jay Klagge said. ``I guess we felt we were better than a ninth seed; we definitely lost a number of close games in a tough conference.''

The element of surprise is gone this year for Hayfield. Klagge's Vikings enter with a 17-4 record and are seeded second, behind 18-2 Blooming Prairie.

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Blooming Prairie coach John Worke doesn't need to be convinced that Hayfield is for real this year. Hayfield dealt the Blossoms one of their two defeats, 43-33 on Dec. 22.

Worke admitted some surprise that his team was seeded above Hayfield, given the comparative strengths of their conference schedules. The Hiawatha Valley League has been among the state's strongest for a decade.

``There's no doubt about it, it's an advantage to come out of a stronger conference at tournament time,'' said Worke, whose team's other loss was to Byron, another HVL team. ``I feel in the past years our (Gopher) conference is getting stronger, but it's still not up to the HVL.''

Before Blooming Prairie would encounter Hayfield, the Blossoms might have to overcome another sturdy entry from the HVL. Fourth-seeded Triton is 13-7 and in the same bracket.

Triton fell to Hayfield 52-40 on Jan. 12, and last year Hayfield edged the Cobras 44-43 in the second round of the playoffs.

``We see the sub-section as wide open,'' said Klagge. ``Blooming Prairie has an incredibly athletic front line, and that makes them tough.''

HAYFIELD enters the tournament on a roll, with 11 wins and only one loss since Christmas, to Rochester Lourdes 60-46 on Jan. 29.

The Vikings came back this year with high expectations, with all five starters back from a team that finished 10-16.

``Obviously, we wanted to challenge Lourdes for the (HVL Gold) division title,'' said Klagge.

Hayfield has won with an offense that has averaged 57 points and a defense that yields only 45. The Vikings were the only team to out-rebound Lourdes in the regular season.

Bonnie Thoe, a 5-foot-11 junior, is among the area's best interior players and leads Hayfield with 12.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Junior point guard Kristin Peterson is a playmaker with 11.6 points, 3.65 assists and 3.45 steals per game.

Senior center Kristin Petersen, who came back midway through last year from knee surgery, adds 7.7 points and 8.3 rebounds.

``I think, mainly, experience was the difference for us this year,'' Klagge said. ``We were able to play with a lead and hold it.''

BLOOMING PRAIRIE hasn't lost since December, and completed a 13-0 campaign in the Gopher Conference with Tuesday's win over New Richland-Hartland/Ellendale-Geneva.

Worke's Blossoms are young, with only one senior on the roster. Only two starters returned from last year's 15-7 team, 5-10 junior forwards Andrea Banton and Jana Peterson.

Banton (12.5 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game) and Peterson (9.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game) team with 5-11 junior Ranell Goette (11.2 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game) to give Blooming Prairie an imposing inside game. Missy Avery, a 5-7 junior guard, draws the toughest defensive assignments.

The Blossoms have played stingy defense at 36.9 points per game, while scoring 51.1. Blooming Prairie has outrebounded most opponents by a 30-23 ratio. One concern might be 39 percent shooting from the field, and just 48 percent from the free-throw line.

Worke, 32, a Blooming Prairie native, has a 102-34 record in six seasons.

TRITON staggered a bit after a 5-1 start, but the Cobras still turned around last year's 11-13 record. Second-year coach Chuck Ohm has six letterwinners back from last year.

Triton had some wins over solid teams in the regular season, such as Lake City twice, and Kasson-Mantorville. The Cobras also defeated Waterville, their first-round tournament foe, 78-61 in their highest-scoring game of the year.

Triton relies on good defense mostly, ranking in the top third of the HVL in points allowed.

The Cobras are led by six-foot junior center Tara Munnikhuysen, one of the top centers in the area. Five seniors also play key roles: Jenny Archer, Emily Sethun, Krissy Sowieja, Brooke Thiemann and Michelle Narveson. @et