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Lake City ready to tackle top team in state in state tournament opener

The Lake City girls basketball team just survived and outlasted a field full of talented teams in the Section 1AA tournament. It'll try to do so again this week in the Class AA state tournament.

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Lake City’s Grace Bany, left, and Goodhue’s Joslyn Carlson (45) battle for the ball during a Section 1AA championship girls basketball game last Thursday at Rochester Century High School. Bany is the lone senior starter for a Tigers team that heads to the state tournament this week to face No. 1-ranked New London-Spicer. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Lake City is getting accustomed to seeing its basketball teams play in state tournaments.

This time it’s the girls’ turn.

The Tigers’ boys have gone to the Class AA state tournament twice in the past five seasons and they made a run to the section semifinals this year.

The Tigers girls’ could sense a similar run coming in recent seasons. They were lost an overtime thriller against Dover-Eyota a year ago in the section quarterfinals, before breaking through this season and beating a talented Goodhue team 37-35 in the Section 1AA championship game.

“A lot of excitement,” Tigers head coach Clay Olstad said of the feeling in Lake City and around the school. “The girls are happy, excited and just enjoying the moment.”

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The win against Goodhue means No. 7-ranked Lake City (19-3 overall) is still playing this week, one of only eight teams still alive in the hunt for a Class AA state championship, after Lilly Meincke sank a pair of free throws in the final minute against Goodhue to give the Tigers the lead for good and their first trip to state in nearly four decades.

It was 37 years ago, 1984, when the Lake City girls last made it to state. This week will be just the third trip in program history.

“We’re telling them to focus on a game at a time and enjoy every step,” Olstad said, “because basketball season could be over in the blink of an eye.”

The Tigers do not have an easy first-round assignment, though no assignment is easy this time of year. Lake City opens state tournament play at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday against top-ranked and undefeated New London-Spicer in Chanhassen.

Lake City and New London-Spicer (21-0) have taken similar paths to the state tournament. Both teams are among the highest-scoring teams in the state and among the stingiest defensively. And neither team had played in a down-to-the-wire game until their section championship games.

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The Wildcats edged Redwood Valley 59-55 in the Section 3AA championship game, just their second game this season decided by less than 10 points. Lake City’s two-point win against Goodhue in the Section 1AA final was also just its second game this year decided by single digits.

Olstad credited the Tigers’ tough schedule — the challenging competition in the Hiawatha Valley League and Section 1AA — for their ability to overcome adversity in the section final, a game in which they managed just 12 first-half points.

“I think playing in our conference and our section significantly helps all of the teams,” Olstad said. “There are so many good teams, and we face multiple state-ranked opponents throughout the season in the section and the conference. It doesn’t get much better than in the HVL and our section.”

Head coach Mike Dreier, in his 43rd season, guides the unbeaten Wildcats. Dreier is the winningest girls basketball coach in state history. His team this season is led by the Rich sisters — Mackenzie (a senior), Courtney (junior), Avery (sophomore) and Dakota (eighth-grader) — all of whom are occasionally on the floor at the same time.

Senior forward Emma Hanson came up clutch late in the Section 3AA final, making five of six free-throw attempts in the closing minute to seal the win against Redwood Valley.

“I hope that it’s really valuable,” Dreier told the West Central Tribune, about his team finding a way to win a close game. “I guess we will see as time goes on, but it surely can’t be a negative. It was really impressive to see the girls step up and deliver in the clutch.”

Lake City will counter with a starting lineup that is led by 6-foot-2 senior center Grace Bany, along with with juniors Mya Shones (6-1 forward), Lilly Meincke (5-10 guard) and Natalie Bremer (5-11 guard), and sophomore guard Macey Beltz.

Sophomore Jacey Majerus and freshman Ella Matzke are the first players off the bench for the Tigers.

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That group helps Lake City average 69.6 points per game, while allowing just 43.4.

“Those four older girls have played together on the varsity for a long time,” Olstad said. “Their leadership is huge.

“And the girls off the bench bring us a spark of energy, just that high energy on the defensive end.”

Related Topics: BASKETBALLGIRLS BASKETBALL
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