Shuffled sections change outlooks
By Donny Henn
Kenyon-Wanamingo coach Tracy Erlandson savored her team's trip to the state tournament last March, because she understood going in that getting back there would be doubly difficult this season.
Before the Knights polished off a 28-3 season and the Class A third place trophy in former coach Steve Alger's 25th and final season, Erlandson knew the team she'd inherit would be bumped up to Class AA this year.
The Minnesota State High School League examines fluctuating enrollments and reshuffles competitive section assignments every two years.
"To be honest, I'm a little disappointed about it," Erlandson admitted. "Last year was great; You think about it a lot. The girls haven't said much about it, they just want to play. But they know we're going into a tough section."
Dover-Eyota also was bumped from the Section One, Class A tournament to 1AA, while former 1AA entrants Chatfield, Fillmore Central and Wabasha-Kellogg were all moved to 1A.
Erlandson isn't delighted about the prospect of entering a 1AA sub-section tournament that includes two state-ranked teams, Lourdes and Zumbrota-Mazeppa, along with formidable Kingsland and Stewartville. D-E coach Tom Surprenant echoed Erlandson's apprehension.
"Obviously if we were still in Class A we might be a little more excited about the section tournament," Surprenant said. "A lot of people put a lot of focus on the tournament, but I haven't done that. Most are going to be disappointed when it's over. The regular season is the majority of what's going to happen (in players' careers)."
Fillmore Central coach Jim Taubert, Chatfield coach Brian Baum and first-year Wabasha-Kellogg coach Rob Stewart all generally agreed that their teams' move from AA to A was for the best.
"I'm happy that we moved down," said Taubert, 59. "I think that year in and year out we will be more competitive in A than AA. I'm pleased with the move because it gives our kids a better opportunity to advance."
Last season, Fillmore Central lost in the 1AA sub-section quarterfinals by 26 points to Lake City. Chatfield made it to the sub-section semis, losing by 14 to Lourdes. Wabasha-Kellogg lost in a first-round game by 14 to St. Charles.
"I think moving to (single) 'A' is definitely where we belong right now," said Stewart, 24. "I think it's a good thing."
For Chatfield, it's a return to Class A. Baum's Gophers were the Cinderella team of the first four-class tournament in 1997, winning the Section 1A tournament despite a sub-.500 regular season and finishing fourth at the Class A state tournament.
"You look at the teams, and sure, Section 1A looks a heckuva a lot easier that 1AA; As a coach I can appreciate that," Baum said. "But I really think there is a different feel between A and AA that I will miss. I don't know if the crowds are bigger, or are more into it (in AA), but there's a different atmosphere."
GOTTA HAVE FAITH: A first-time entrant in the Section 1A tournament is Rochester Faith Christian, a tiny, private school with a 15-year history of success in the Christian Athletic League.
Faith Christian is 15-1 this season, and last month it repeated as champion of the National Invitational Tournament in Owatonna. The school has only 28 students in grades K-12, and coach Larry Witthoeft's team has only six players. (A story about the team appeared on the Jan. 24 High School Thursday page).
"In all likelihood we'll get a bottom seed because they'll say we haven't played anybody," said Witthoeft. "But we've scrimmaged some A and AA teams this year and we've stood up pretty well.
"We probably won't win it, but we'll surprise some people," he added. "I don't think anybody will blow us off the floor."
MAHLUM'S MARK: Kingsland senior guard Amy Mahlum put her name in the state high school record books with her 41-point game against Lewiston-Altura last Friday. Her 10 three-pointers eclipsed the former girls' state record of nine in a single game, which had been held by five players. Mahlum made 10-of-13
DUTCH'S DOWN YEAR: It's not the first time that Terry 'Dutch' Heiderscheit's John Marshall girls basketball team has lost more than a dozen games in a season. But it's the first time in Heiderscheit's dozen seasons that the Rockets lost that many by February.
JM is 2-16 after its 13th straight defeat Tuesday at Albert Lea; Heiderscheit had never lost more than 13 games in a season before this. His career winning percentage was .604 entering this year, and his current record is still a sturdy 164-122.
"You never imagine that you're going to have a record like this, but if you're going to (coach) long enough, I suppose eventually it's going to happen," said Heiderscheit, who replaced former coach Pat Laska at JM in 1989.
'PODOMINANT': Lakeville junior center Liz Podominick grabbed her 1,000th career rebound in last Friday's 28-point win over Eastview. Lakeville (18-0) and Eastview (14-5) are both in the upcoming seven-team Section 1AAAA tournament with the three Rochester schools and Owatonna. Lakeville won the Rotary tournament in Rochester in December, and is the defending Class AAAA state champion.