Stewartville girls basketball having special, spectacular season under head coach Liffrig

The Stewartville girls basketball team is on a 23-game winning streak under coach Ryan Liffrig, who is in his eighth year on the job. The Tigers are one win from qualifying for the state tournament.

Austin, Stewartville Section 1AAA Championship girls basketball
Stewartville's Keeley Steele (25) drives towards the basket defended by Austin's Cassidy Shute (25) during a Section 1AAA championship girls basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2022, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. The teams will meet again in the section title game at 6 p.m. Friday, March 10, 2023.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo

STEWARTVILLE — Ryan Liffrig is in his eighth year as coach of the Stewartville girls basketball team. The 37-year-old, who is 139-76 lifetime with the Tigers, with 40 of those losses in a rough first two seasons, is having his best season ever. The Tigers are 26-2, winners of 23 straight games, ranked fourth in Class AAA and one win away from advancing to the state tournament. If Stewartville does it, it would be a first at the school, for a girls or boys basketball team.

No. 1 seed Stewartville plays No. 3 Austin at 6 p.m. Friday in the Section 1AAA final at Mayo Civic Arena. The teams met in the championship last year with Austin winning and advancing to state for the second straight time.

Twenty three wins in a row. What’s your take on that?

I am super proud of the girls and how they have responded to everything this year. They have bought into wanting to win the games over everything else. Our team goals are No. 1. Individual goals are nice, but all of these girls have the same goal and that is to win. They don’t care who scores.

When last season ended, Stewartville losing to Austin in the Section 1AAA title game, what were you thinking as you went to bed that night?


Austin had a very good team and they deserved to win that game. They played very well and I thought they outplayed us. But I also thought about the group we had coming back and how big a motivator it would be in the off-season. But Austin was better that night. All of the credit to them and I hope we can become like them because they’ve been the standard in Section 1AAA (advancing to state the last two years).

Describe yourself as a coach?

If you ask our players, they know that I am very demanding on the defensive end. There are no plays off. That’s where it starts. If you’re not going to play defense, you’re not going to be on the court. For me as a coach, it’s important to have all-out effort because that is something you can control. You can’t control whether the ball goes in the hoop, but you can control whether you dive on the floor or box out. Our girls know what we’re looking for. You have to do the effort stuff and control the controllables.

Stewartville head coach Ryan Liffrig, center, talks to his team during a game against Lourdes on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Rochester. This season, the Tigers have been at their best under the 37-year-old Liffrig, currently on a 23-game winning streak.
Post Bulletin file photo

What’s the best part of this job?

I’d say it’s when you have a team that is bought in and giving everything they have and putting the team first. That is really rewarding when all of that happens. It doesn’t happen every year. But when it does, it’s special. That’s how it is with the kids we have here now. They pay attention to details and they really work hard. They’ve blown away my expectations.

What’s the worst part?

It's playing time and not being able to play every kid. That is my least favorite thing. It’s also the extra stuff in coaching basketball. It’s the little things, like scheduling and all of the extras that go along with coaching. Things like planning for summer basketball camps. But I have a great support system in those areas, so I can’t complain too much.

You’ve got a couple of dependable standouts in senior guards Haylie Strum and Keeley Steele. What has been their impact this season?


Their impact has been just incredible. As a backcourt duo, they’re as good as it comes. They can both shoot, pass, score and now they are both elite defenders. That makes it really tough on other teams. I like to really get after (the opposition), and it starts with those two. When your leaders are willing to put it all on the floor with effort plays, then the other girls follow suit. They are great role models for our program. They have both been a part of our program since the ninth grade and now they’re both playing the best basketball of their careers. It’s just been really fun to have them.

There must be a buzz in Stewartville about your team. Are you feeling it?

Oh yeah, everyone is pretty excited and behind the team. I think we will be packing the (Mayo Civic Arena) on Friday night. You’re going to see a lot of Tigers fans in the building. Our town has been super supportive. They’re going to be rocking the place.

How much pressure is on a team that has won 23 straight games?

I don’t think we’re really feeling that right now. We’re just going game to game and preparing the best we can. I think the most pressure is in round two, in the section semifinals when you’re more of a heavy favorite. But when you’re in the section final, I think you just go in there and play your butts off.

Other than seniors Steele and Strum, you have a really young team, including a pack of standout freshmen. Is this the beginning of a dynasty?

We sure hope so. Our freshmen are a really solid group and we mix with them sophomores, juniors and seniors. It’s a really good mix for us right now. We have some other kids who are coming up who are going to be ready soon, too. We’ve got some really good kids all the way down to sixth grade. Our sixth-graders just competed in Tier I, the state’s highest class, and they won it. So we have some good young kids coming down the line. That’s a credit to our youth program. They’ve got the kids really excited about playing basketball.

Besides being talented and deep, what makes this year’s Stewartville team special?


If you watch our bench during games, you’re going to be entertained. Our bench players are as into it as any in the area, and they want us to win as much as the girls we have on the court. We have some seniors who don’t get a lot of minutes, but they put the team first. And that makes this whole thing all the more special. They will do anything they can to make this team better and fired up. And then our younger girls look at our seniors doing that, and then they jump in. That just builds our culture.

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or
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