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Fantasy became reality for state-bound Lourdes girls

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Lourdes' Anna Otto low-fives her teammates before the Section 1AA girls basketball championship game on Thursday at Mayo Civic Arena. Otto and the Eagles won and will be play in the state tournament beginning Wednesday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

The seeds were sown six years ago.

It was then that the Rochester Lourdes girls basketball team got an inkling that it could be special.

"Our Lourdes traveling team in sixth through eighth grade was really good," said Eagles starting senior guard Anna Otto. "We got it into our heads that once we got to high school that maybe we could eventually get to the state tournament."

Those Eagles obviously had a good feel for things. Because here they are, one day away from playing in a state tournament they’d fantasized about as grade-schoolers. At 6 p.m. Wednesday, No. 1-seeded and No. 1-ranked Lourdes takes on Concordia Academy-Roseville in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state tournament at Williams Arena.

It’s a trip that not only the Lourdes players dreamed about, but so did their head coach. Aaron Berg has taken Lourdes to state before, but this marks the first time that his Eagles will have played at historic Williams Arena.

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It’s a venue that Berg has forever held in esteem.

"That is a personal thing for me," Berg said, "being able to coach at Williams Arena. It’s a place I grew up with."

Judging by Lourdes’ record (27-2) and No. 1-ranking, its stay at Williams Arena might well be a three-day one. The semifinals are at 6 p.m. Friday at Williams and the finals at 2 p.m. Saturday at Williams.

FIRST TIME SINCE '17

The Eagles haven’t been to state since 2017. Still, this Lourdes edition isn’t completely bereft of state experience. Senior star Alyssa Ustby was a starting forward on that ’17 team.

A good player then and a great one now (averaging 26 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals), Berg believes her state taste will be beneficial.

"I think there will be some carryover there," he said. "Alyssa knows what it is to be on the big stage, and she can communicate that to her teammates."

As good a season as the Eagles have had, they are likely playing their best basketball right now. Lourdes is coming off an impressive bounce-back 50-46 win over No. 8-ranked Goodhue in the Section 1AA finals.

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The Eagles struggled in the first half of that game, then smoothed things out considerably in stretching their winning streak to 16 games. They’ve also turned in decisive wins against powers Stewartville (section semifinals) and Lake City (Hiawatha Valley League championship) in the last three weeks.

"I think we’re trending toward peaking right now," said Berg, whose team scores 66 points per game and allows just 43. Concordia Academy-Roseville averages 66 points and gives up 48 points per game and is led by 5-6 junior sharpshooter Ivane Tensaie (19 ppg.).

"We’ve played really well the last few weeks, starting with that HVL championship game," Berg said. "Even when we get stymied or challenged, we’re still playing well."

As good as Ustby is (she’ll play next year at the University of North Carolina), it’s Lourdes’ balance that makes it truly special. The Eagles have four players averaging at least six points per game, with Ustby at 26, guard C.J. Adamson at 13, forward Sydney Elliott at eight and guard Anna Otto at six.

But this team goes much deeper than that foursome, with such key players as starting center Annamarie Sieve and reserve guards Vivica Bretton, Emily Bowron and Emma Alcott.

"We have good, stereotypical players at every position," Berg said. "We’ve got Alyssa, and then we’ve got a top-tier athlete at guard (Adamson), a facilitator (Otto), a solid shooter (Elliott), and then we’ve got a bunch of grinders in Sieve, Bretton, Bowron and Alcott. Those kids come in and work hard. I think our balance is the key."

While Otto also appreciates that the Eagles check nearly every athletic box, she says the team’s togetherness has been just as vital in their banner season.

"We’ve got 18 of us who have suited up all season, and we’ve all become so close," Otto said. "The further we’ve gotten into our games, the more energy we’ve gotten from everyone on the bench. It’s amazing the energy we get from everyone."

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What:Class AA state girls basketball tournament.

When:The tournament is Wednesday-Saturday.

Lourdes in the quarterfinals:Section 1AA champion Lourdes plays Section 4AA champion Concordia Academy-Roseville at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Williams Arena.

Records, seedings, rankings:Lourdes is 27-2, seeded first and ranked No. 1. Concordia Academy-Roseville is 20-9, unseeded and unranked.

Lourdes vs. Goodhue girls basketball Section 1AA championship

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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