It's the last High School Boys Basketball Focus of the year, so I figured we should have some fun with this one. So, let's start it out with some superlatives from a 2021 season that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
But let's also take it one step further with a look-ahead at the 2021-22 season.
MVP: Will Tschetter, Stewartville
Best defender: Casey Schultz, Caledonia
Best shooter: Kooper Vaughn, St. Charles
Best sixth man: Ja'shon Simpson, Caledonia
Best bench celebrations: Plainview-Elgin-Millville or Lewiston-Altura
Best handle: Blake Herber, Plainview-Elgin-Millville or Ethan Slaathaug, Hayfield
Coach of the Year: Chris Pack, Hayfield
Mr. Intangibles: Conner Schumacher, Plainview-Elgin-Millville
Best senior: Will Tschetter, Stewartville
Best junior: Emmanuel Manyuon, Austin
Best sophomore: Buay Koak, Lyle-Pacelli or Isaac Matti, Hayfield
Best freshman: Hunter Lorenson, Lake City
Best individual moment: Kooper Vaughn scoring 63 points against Fillmore Central.
Most surprising team: Kenyon-Wanamingo was 3-72 in HVL play since 2015. They were picked last by rival coaches but they finished 5-9 in the HVL and 9-11 overall. That's pretty impressive.
WAY-TOO-EARLY 2021 POWER RANKINGS
(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.)
Eli King is going to come back with a vengeance, and the Iowa State University commit is going to combine with Ja'shon Simpson and Jackson Koepke to form one of the best backcourts in the state. Caledonia will miss Austin Klug, Sam Privet, Andrew Kunelius and Casey Schultz, but the Warriors will be loaded yet again for another run toward the Class AA state title.
Ethan Slaathaug is graduating and that's a huge loss for the reigning Class A state champions, but four starters are coming back so the Vikings are going to be tough to beat again. Isaac Matti was outstanding as a sophomore and he's poised for an even bigger role next year. Sharpshooter Ethan Pack is a standout on both ends and Easton Fritcher is an elite rebounder. Matti, Pack, Fritcher and Kobe Foster are poised to show the rest of the state that Hayfield isn't just a one-year story.
Jake Braaten's graduation is a huge loss, but Byron has a really talented junior class that's ready to flex its muscles. Ahjany Lee keeps getting better every year and he'll likely be the best shot-blocker in the HVL next year. Jaxon Marine, Trent DeCook and Isaac Dearborn should all take on even bigger roles next year, too. They're going to be one of the fastest, strongest and most athletic teams in southeastern Minnesota.
4. Lake City
Lake City had a really young team and still managed to go 13-6 overall and 10-4 in the always-tough HVL. The Tigers are running it back with basically the same team. Justin Wohlers looks to have a dominant senior season. Point guard Hunter Lorenson should be due for a sophomore-season explosion. Keep an eye out for Jaden Shones, Keegan Ryan and Ryan Heise. That trio of underclassmen could make some major noise next year for the Tigers. It helps to have one of the best coaches in the area, too, in Greg Berge.
The Cardinals were red hot down the stretch, winning eight of their last nine games, and they should keep the good mojo rolling next year. Collin Bonow and Thomas Menk are two of the best players in the Three Rivers Conference. It might not be at Caledonia's level, but Lewiston-Altura could have the inside track for the Three Rivers West title.
Emmanuel Manyuon is a bucket-getting machine and the Packers will lean on their guard next year. Kris Fadness will have to replace some really good seniors, but Manyuon and Victor Idris should keep Austin near the top of the Big Nine standings.
This Goodhue team is going to be good. Like really good. It locks up opponents defensively, and it has three bucket-getters in Adam Poncelet, Dayne Wojcik and Will Opsahl. Matt Halverson is a heck of a coach, and if the Wildcats' supporting cast steps up, Goodhue could win 20 games in 2021-22.
An argument could be made that if Southland had beaten Hayfield in the Section 1A title game, it would've been able to win the Class A state championship. That's revisionist history, but Southland has to wonder what could've been. It'll have a chance to make another run next year thanks to the return of two terrific guards: Eli Wolff and Harrison Hannah. Opponents don't want to get into a shootout with those two dudes because they can fill it up.
Rushford-Peterson advanced to the Section 1A semifinals, and it's getting its best player back (Justin Ruberg) as well as three more starters. The Trojans are always going to be really well-coached defensively, and Ruberg is good enough to take them on a special run. Malachi Bunke and Grady Hengel got a bunch of run this year in the backcourt and will have more shots at their disposal after the graduation of Luke O'Hare. The Three Rivers Conference is going to be deep and Rushford-Peterson is going to be a major factor.
Jaden Wysocki has all the tools to be an All-Big Nine player in 2021-22. The long, lanky guard/forward is going to be an absolute problem for opponents. The Panthers were terrific defensively and they'll have plenty of talent back. They're losing some size, but Century is going to be pesky.
10 THINGS I THINK
1. I think my way-too-early First Team All-Area team next year would be: Eli King (Caledonia), Ahjany Lee (Byron), Isaac Matti (Hayfield), Makuei Riek (Mayo) and Emmanuel Manyuon (Austin).
2. Do not overlook La Crescent next year. Carter Todd, Parker McQuin and Cody Kowalski got a ton of valuable experience this year and the Lancers should be well over .500 next year.
3. I think Section 1 got some much-deserved respect after the run that Caledonia and Hayfield went on at the state tournament. Plus, no Minnesota team played Minnehaha Academy tougher than Byron.
4. I think Byron's Isaac Dearborn could be All-HVL next season.
5. I think Peyton Schumacher better be on everyone's radar next year. Plainview-Elgin-Millville is losing Conner Schumacher and Blake Herber, so the younger Schumacher brother could be due for a blowup junior season.
6. I think Hayfield's Isaac Matti is going to average more than 25 points per game next year.
7. I think Triton has a chance to win 20 games next year.
8. I think Lewiston-Altura's Thomas Menk is going to be the best shooter in southeastern Minnesota next season.
9. I think Iowa State is going to thank their lucky stars that Eli King picked them. After another big season, King will be a no-doubt four-star recruit once they update the recruiting rankings.
10. I think Stewartville is going to be better than people think. Even though they're losing Will Tschetter and Nolan Stier, the nucleus of Miles Hettinger, Henry Tschetter and Bode Mayer is really solid.