Lourdes grateful for another state tournament shot
The Lourdes girls basketball team plays in the state tournament beginning Wednesday, when it takes on state defending champion Albany.
Lourdes has some unfinished business.
It was two seasons ago that the Eagles girls basketball team was ranked No. 1 and about to play in the Class AA state semifinals. Then, suddenly, a few hours before Lourdes was to take the Williams Arena floor, the remainder of the tournament was abruptly canceled, COVID-19 pandemic worries too much.
Well, two years later, a number of players from that Eagles team are getting a second chance. Lourdes has qualified for the state tournament again after a dramatic 62-57 comeback win over Lake City in the Section 1AA final Thursday.
The Eagles coach is also getting a second chance. Aaron Berg retired last spring after seven years at the helm, but was brought back after first-year man Mark Kellen stepped down on Feb. 6.
Lourdes has gone a sparkling 9-0 under Berg’s watch and brings a 21-7 record to a state tournament that begins for it 8 p.m. Wednesday. That’s when No. 5 seed Lourdes plays No. 4 Albany (23-5 and ranked fifth) at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena.
Albany is the state’s defending champion.
“We are glad to have another crack at it, just feeling blessed to have another opportunity to do this one last time (Berg says he’s retiring for good after this season) with a great group of people,” Berg said.
Times have changed, though. In 2020, the Eagles were ranked No. 1 and leaning on seniors, including future University of North Carolina standout Alyssa Ustby.
This go around, the Eagles are under the radar, at least to outsiders. They’re not ranked anywhere in the top 10.
But based on their recent production, they should be. In fact, this CJ Adamson-led team should actually be considered a real contender to win a state championship.
In the last month, there have been wins over powers Winona Cotter (twice), Lake City (twice), No. 8-ranked Goodhue and Caledonia.
It’s been the Eagles’ defense, the stellar play of senior point guard Adamson — along with plenty of other offensive weapons to go with her — that has taken this team from good to truly special.
It’s what has it on an 11-game winning streak, including a wild come-from-behind triumph over Lake City on Thursday, March 10, in the Section 1AA championship game in which Adamson inserted her name as one of the best Lourdes players ever.
Adamson scored 16 points in the final 10 minutes of that game, refusing to let Lourdes lose even after it had trailed by 12 points in the second half.
And now, here they are, back at state. They enter not just with Adamson, but 6-foot-2 center Ella Hopkins as a force inside, 5-9 forward Vivica Bretton as a defensive star and a surging offensive player (averaging 17 points in her last four games) and guard Emily Bowron as a lethal 3-pointer shooter. All are juniors, all played on that 2020 state tournament team, and all admirably do what the Eagles do best — play defense. The starting lineup is rounded out by freshman guard Allison Restovich, an all-around player.
In its last four games, Lourdes is allowing an average of just 41 points. It is defense which the Eagles do best, with so many quick-footed and handed players, and with synchronicity there that sets them apart.
“Our defense has really gotten a lot better,” Hopkins said. “We are communicating a lot more. We’ve been given a game plan, and we’re really executing it.”
Hopkins, who averages 13 points and 10 rebounds per game, never doubted that this team could excel. It just took a while for it to materialize.
“We had high expectations right off the bat this season; we knew we could do a lot with our skill sets,” she said. “But we needed to put it all together in a team format. Now, we’re better at working together and our defense has exploded.”
And finally, Lourdes has Adamson. She is the driver of this state-tournament team, a cool customer who backs it up with so much skill, speed and ability to make plays
A fifth-year starter who will play next season at Division II Augustana University (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Adamson enters the state tournament averaging 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals per game. But it’s her ability to guide and take over that truly puts her over the top.
“CJ showed it the other night against Lake City,” Berg said. “When the chips were down, she remained calm and composed. She carried our team when we needed it.”