Cali Esser is one of a bunch of high-impact sophomores playing basketball this season in southeastern Minnesota. The landscape is dotted with them, including four sophomore starters at Caledonia and Kasson-Mantorville's Aby Shubert, who is already a 1,000-point scorer.
TOP 5 STANDOUTS
1. Anna Miller, Mayo
Miller has occupied this top spot a lot this season. Play like she has, and it’s deserved. Tuesday night was among her best performances yet, scoring 34 points and grabbing 22 rebounds as the Spartans stayed unbeaten with a win over Red Wing.
2. Cali Esser, La Crescent
It didn’t lead to a win, but it sure was a dynamic effort by the Lancers’ sophomore point guard. Esser totaled 37 points on Monday, burying eight 3-pointers along the way as La Crescent just missed against Caledonia, falling 64-62 in a battle of Three Rivers powers.
3. Ava Privet, Caledonia
In that same game, Caledonia beating La Crescent by two points, it was another sophomore going off. Privet had 25 points for Caledonia and nailed five 3-pointers.
4. Kristen Watson, Hayfield
Hayfield’s Kristen Watson continues to play beyond her years. Thursday, the freshman guard scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Vikings beat Faribault Bethlehem Academy 57-44.
5. Macy Holtz, Plainview-Elgin-Millville
The Bulldogs senior and Minnesota State Moorhead commit averages 23 points per game. On Friday, Holtz was eight points better than that as her 31 points helped P-E-M get past Fillmore Central. Then on Tuesday, she had 34 points in a win over Chatfied.
(Editor's note: These rankings are considered "pound-for-pound" rankings, similar to many rankings systems in boxing and mixed martial arts. They represent the best teams in southeastern Minnesota, relative to the class they play in. They also only rank the teams that are still playing this fall. The teams whose seasons are canceled due to COVID-19 are not included.)
1. Mayo (12-0)
Even after a week layoff due to COVID-19 protocol, the Spartans keep winning. There is so much firepower here. Red Wing felt like it was right there with Mayo at halftime Tuesday only to lose by 21 points.
2. Stewartville (12-0)
The Tigers might run the table this regular season. But it won’t be easy. Excellent teams Dover-Eyota, Kasson-Mantorville and Winona Cotter remain on the schedule.
3. Houston (10-0)
The Hurricanes are another team that had to take a COVID-19 break. Only theirs was a loooong one, from Jan. 30-Feb. 17. But Houston has returned to win its next five games, including that playoff-atmosphere 52-50 one against powerhouse Kingsland. The coast looks pretty clear now for Houston to finish the regular season unbeaten.
4. Lake City (11-2)
Tough to find a team that looks any better than long, athletic and determined Lake City. The Tigers do have two losses, but those were a long time ago. Lake City is on a 10-game winning streak and that balanced one over fellow HVL power Goodhue on Tuesday night was special.
5. Cotter (10-2)
Here is another team that just keeps winning and relies on so many in its lineup to do it. Cotter is on a nine-game winning streak, with spicy ones over Goodhue and Dover-Eyota in the mix.
6. Kasson-Mantorville (12-2)
The KoMets seemed to be slightly scuffling about two weeks ago, with a one-sided loss to Goodhue and needing two overtimes to beat St. Peter. But it’s been smooth sailing since, including a 63-46 win over tough team Lourdes.
7. Plainview-Elgin-Millville (11-2)
Bulldogs’ senior guard Macy Holtz keeps on scoring in bunches. She’s not the only reason P-E-M is so good, but she’s a big reason.
8. Blooming Prairie (13-1)
The Blossoms have answered almost every call. Included in that has been a one-point win over top-10 ranked Waterville-Elysian-Morristown. And Megan Oswald’s last game? She did it again: 19 points, 10 rebounds. She’s a walking double-double.
9. Kingsland (11-2)
If it weren’t for a one-point loss to unbeaten Houston, the Knights would be even higher on this list. Kingsland is tough to score against, allowing just 40 points per game. And it's got an excellent athlete and scorer (18 ppg.) to turn to in Ellie Buchholtz.
10. Dover-Eyota (11-3)
Among the most balanced teams on this list, Dover-Eyota can beat you in all kinds of ways. The Eagles have won eight of their last nine games, the only loss by three points to Cotter.
• Mankato East at Mayo, Friday: Unbeaten Mayo completely had its way with East in their first meeting, winning 68-34. But this is a good Cougars team, its only two other losses to Mankato West and Red Wing. And it beat the second-placed team in the Big Nine — West — on Tuesday night, 60-54.
• Hayfield at Blooming Prairie, Friday: This is the second meeting between the Gopher Conference powers. Blooming Prairie won the last one, 53-43.
• Lake City at Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Monday: Let’s call March 5 “Big Monday,” with all of the marquee matchups happening. Here’s one of them. We’ve got streaking and silly hot Lake City going up against P-E-M and its star, Macy Holtz.
• Red Wing at Mankato West, Monday: Red Wing gave Mayo a run for its money on Tuesday, actually leading at the half before the Spartans took over. West has the second-best record in the Big Nine, at 11-2 overall.
• Kasson-Mantorville at Stewartville, Monday: This is the matchup of the week. K-M and Stewartville are two of the top three teams in the HVL, and this will be their second meeting. Unbeaten Stewartvile (12-0) prevailed the first time, in Kasson. Got a feeling the KoMets will be hungry.
• Waterville-Elysian-Morristown at Blooming Prairie: Top-10 ranked W-E-M will invade the Blooming Prairie gym with revenge on its mind. It has lost just twice all season, and one of those was against unranked (though it should be!) Blooming Prairie.
• Cotter at Caledonia, Friday; Caledonia at Cotter, Monday: There might not be another better “young” team out there than Caledonia, which is led by four sophomores. But do the Warriors have enough to deal with veteran Cotter? We’re going to find out twice in four days as the teams meet each other in a relative “back-to-back.”
NEWS AND NOTES
Love that balance
• There are few hotter teams than Lake City. The Tigers have won their last 10 games. The key for them is having so many players contributing. Four Tigers average at least nine points. A prime example of them riding balance happened on Thursday when Mya Shones had 23 points, Natalie Bremer 20, Lilly Meincke 16 and Grace Bany 14. Then there is Bany in the middle on defense, swatting away shot after shot.
BP's dynamic duo
• One of the best inside-outside combinations in southeastern Minnesota resides in Blooming Prairie, with senior Megan Oswald at center and junior Bobbie Bruns at guard. Oswald (19 ppg.) and Bruns (12 ppg.), scored all but 13 of their team’s points last week in a 51-31 win over United South Central. Blooming Prairie is a nice unit, too, with its 13-1 record.
• Lourdes played a game with three of its top players missing on Friday. One was out for COVID-19 contact tracing reasons, one missed to attend a funeral and one missed due to a sprained ankle. To make things even tougher on Lourdes, it was taking on one of the hotter teams around, Dover-Eyota. D-E did indeed end up the winner, 62-52.
It represented Lourdes’ fifth straight loss as it has endured a gauntlet of a schedule the last two weeks. All five of the teams it played in that stretch -- Stewartville, Goodhue, Lake City, Kasson-Mantorville, Dover-Eyota -- have decidedly winning records. Things ease up just a bit as Lourdes ends its regular season with three more games, though another meeting with K-M looms.
What a way to end
• Cotter has five games left on its regular-season schedule, all of them against winning teams: La Crescent, then Caledonia twice, then Stewartville, then Lake City. And no HVL teams are hotter right now than Lake City and Stewartville. Good luck, Ramblers.
• Southeastern Minnesota is loaded with talented sophomores. They include Kasson-Mantorville guard Aby Shubert, who is sure to be highly recruited, as well as Caledonia’s top four scorers of Ava Privet, Alexis Schroeder, Paige Klug and Jovial Klug. La Crescent is another team with two big-time sophomores. They are guards Cali Esser and Molly Bills. Esser averages 19 ppg., Bills 16 ppg.
Youth being served at M-C
• There is a seventh-grader at Mabel-Canton, Kinley Soiney, who Cougars coach Adam Wilder believes has a chance to be the best player he’ll have ever coached.. Soiney is already a starter and is averaging 6 points per game. He describes her as “raw” still, but with loads of talent.
FIVE JAW-DROPPING STATS
• In Plainview-Elgin-Millville’s 80-62 win over Fillmore Central, a foul and free-throw fest ensued. P-E-M shot 43 free throws, making 27. Fillmore Central shot 26 free throws, making 12. Not sure when everyone got home.
• It was a 3-point shootout of the deluxe kind when Caledonia and La Crescent met on Monday. La Crescent made a whopping 12 of them, Caledonia 11. It was the Warriors who won the game, 64-62. La Crescent’s Cali Esser had bragging rights on the 3-point shooting, draining eight of them. Caledonia’s Ava Privet had five. La Crescent got its first 21 points on 3-pointer.
• Kasson-Mantorville’s Aby Shubert is just a sophomore. Still, she’s already crossed the 1,000-point mark, getting that done on Tuesday when she scored 26 points in a win over Triton.
• It’s been a streaky season for Lourdes. The Eagles began the season by winning their first six games. And now they find themselves having lost their last six.
• P-E-M’s Macy Holtz is one of the best shooters in southeastern Minnesota. That’s especially true from the free throw line, a place the senior occupies a lot during games. Holtz has taken 69 free throws this season and missed just nine. Holtz is a great shooter from everywhere else, too (50 percent on 2-pointers and 39 percent on 3’s).