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Southeastern Minn. basketball strong as ever

When his Zumbrota-Mazeppa basketball team fell to Faribault Bethlehem Academy 56-55 on Dec. 3, Cougars coach Tim McAthie learned something.

Though his team hadn't played as well he'd hoped, McAthie discovered that FBA really was as good as advertised. It fought back from a six-point deficit with 47 seconds to go to beat Z-M, bagging a pair of long three pointers in the final seconds. FBA was ranked No. 4 at the time in state Class A, while Z-M was ranked No. 2 in Class AA.

"(FBA) is a really disciplined, and really fundamentally sound team," McAthie said.

Then, this past weekend, McAthie didn't so much gain new knowledge as much as he was served a reminder. It came with unranked Goodhue beating FBA 46-37. This, after Z-M had blasted past Goodhue 57-41 the week before.

As McAthie tells it, the reminder was this: "This just tells me again that basketball in southeast Minnesota is so good," he said. "It doesn't matter what class you are looking at. Every year, we have some of the best teams in the state. You look at what Kenyon-Wanamingo and Hayfield did two years ago (finishing first and second, respectively, in the state Class AA tournament), and you look at Lewiston-Altura last year (landing second in state Class AA).

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"Then you look at what Red Wing has done recently (four straight trips to state in Class AAA), and FBA making it to state last year, and all the years Rushford-Peterson has made it to state (five of the last six). Then you look at teams like Lourdes, and Byron. There are just so many good teams in southeast Minnesota."

DIFFERENT FEEL TO L-A: Lewiston-Altura was a dynamite team last season, led by a pack of seniors. They carried the Cardinals all the way to the state tournament finals, where they fell to powerful Litchfield.

L-A also had a pair of up-and-coming players on that team, post players Joe Summers and Travis Spencer. Now, it is down to just one of them. Summers, a senior, no longer attends Lewiston-Altura, having moved back to the state of Washington. Two years ago, Summers moved from Washington to Lewiston.

Summers' absence is being felt, as the Cardinals are just 1-4. The 6-3 forward averaged six points and four rebounds per game last season, and with his long arms and terrific leaping ability, was an excellent interior defender.

"Joe would have given us some scoring from last year," L-A coach Jerry Stensgard said. "He would have us two returning post players along with Travis. Now we have just one, which puts more pressure on Travis."

Stensgard's team is the polar opposite of last year's in terms of experience. He starts two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. Spencer is a junior.

"Our kids are learning," he said. "This is a rebuilding year."

EAGLES FLYING HIGH: Rochester Lourdes felt good about itself going into this season. Coach Rich Decker knew that though his Eagles lacked size, there was plenty of old and new talent there.

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Now Lourdes is feeling even better about things after beginning its season 3-0. The first two wins came on the road, against highly regarded Winona Cotter and Class AAA Austin. The third win was against Kasson-Mantorville, and gave Decker his 500th career win. Decker became just the sixth active boys basketball coach in Minnesota to have reached 500.

Pat Ruff is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. His boys basketball notebook appears each Friday. Please e-mail him at pruff@postbulletin.com with suggestions or comments.

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