Year of underdogs: Milnor, LaMoure-L-M overcame odds in doing well at stateThe Class B state boys basketball tournament wrapped up more than a week ago with Milnor capturing the first state title in program history. It had lost in championship games twice before.
By: Chris Aaruhus, Jamestown Sun Sports Writer, The Jamestown Sun
The Class B state boys basketball tournament wrapped up more than a week ago with Milnor capturing the first state title in program history. It had lost in championship games twice before.
Milnor’s run is another reason why the hottest teams win at tournament time and that strong overall records don’t necessarily mean anything. And neither do polls. The Bison never received a single vote all year because they started the season losing four of their first six games.
But they got hot at the right time, winning 10 straight during the season, and then nine straight starting with districts right through to the state championship. Yet another reason to believe that it’s hot teams that often find postseason success, not necessarily the teams with the best overall record.
LaMoure-Litchville-Marion is another team that was playing well at the end of the season, though the Loboes were pretty strong for most of the campaign, despite not having a starter taller than 5-foot-11.
L-L-M epitomized “what Class B is all about” a term invoked far too often, though it fittingly describes what the Loboes did on the first day of the state tournament. With all odds against them, they took down tournament-favorite Dickinson Trinity, playing the same hard-nosed basketball they played the first game of the season.
Brady Thielges, Jared Meiklejohn and Anthony Olson certainly made their marks. Thielges was steady as always, Meiklejohn provided the big shots and Olson … well, Olson turned everyone’s heads.
The 5-foot-11 uber-athletic forward played above the rim for most of the tournament, slapping blocks off the glass with his incredible jumping ability. This against guys like Dickinson Trinity 6-foot-7 center Jesse Kubik, who signed to play offensive tackle for NDSU.
Despite being outsized — much the way the whole team has been all season — bigger players largely bent to Olson’s will. In a semifinal loss, he did a fairly good job on Milnor 6-5 post Wyatt Mund, who had just seven points after pouring in 32 points and 16 rebounds in a first-round win over Shiloh. Make no mistake about it, everyone knew who Olson was by the end of the tournament.
The Loboes will be back again next year, albeit without Meiklejohn and senior role players Kenny Hodem and Nolan Alber. They’ll have to find some extra offense to replace Meiklejohn, and the job that role players do can never be overstated. It often seems like teams that return their skill players, but graduate their role players never have the same success, and there’s a reason for that. Someone has to do the extra work that often goes unnoticed and if nobody successfully steps into those roles, it could make for a disappointing season.
It’s fun to look through each region and make predictions on next year. This year, many people expected North Star and Beulah to be right back where they were last year — meeting in the state championship game. But Four Winds-Minnewaukan had different plans and so did Dickinson Trinity, and that’s why Class B is followed so well. It carries many emotional ups and downs that bring fans to tears — for reasons good or bad.
Before getting to next year’s favorites, it’s worth noting how many more people attended this year’s Class B state tournament. The last time it was in Minot (North Star won it all), they only opened the top bleachers for the final day. This time, the tops were filling for the first afternoon game (Trinity vs. L-L-M). It was good to see, and it re-affirmed how important this tournament is, though circumstances make rival tournaments easily comparable (more on that in the future).
My predictions for next year:
Region 1, Milnor: With Briton Bussman, Wyatt Mund, two more starters and the entire bench returning, the Bison should be favored to repeat as state champions. Expect them to open up No. 1 in the poll next year. Runner-up — Fargo?Oak Grove.
Region 2, Cavalier: The Tornadoes get the nod, but only because they return a few good players in a region that wasn’t overly strong this year. It’s often one of the best in the state. Runner-up — Grafton.
Region 3, LaMoure-L-M: Brady Thielges, Anthony Olson, Drew Thielges and Parker Stemen provide a pretty good starting point. The losses in the region will make this team hard to beat, even if they’ll have to find a fifth starter and a bench. Runner-up — Linton-HMB.
Region 4, Four Winds-Minnewaukan: With North Star losing two all-staters, the Indians should be primed for a run of at least two more years. They graduate some good players, but one of their best reserve guards was an eighth-grader. They’re set up for a while. Runner-up — Harvey-Wells County.
Region 5, Flasher: Zack Schmidt will be one of the better players in the region if not the state, and a large senior class could carry the Bulldogs through what will be one of the state’s least competitive regions. Runner-up — Shiloh Christian.
Region 6, Des Lacs-Burlington: All-stater Tanner Holte and teammates Chris Duke and Cole Edwards give the Lakers a dynamic trio, arguably the best trio in the state. But solid minutes off the bench eluded them this year, and finding them will continue to be a struggle. It may be just enough to outlast Rugby, which has plenty of athletes, though it does suffer significant graduation losses. Runner-up — Rugby.
Region 7, Beulah: Jett Hettich, whose older brother Jesse graduates, will join Casey Walcker in giving the Miners a dynamic duo. This region graduates pretty much everything, so expect teams like Dickinson Trinity and Hazen to again challenge. Region 8, Powers Lake: Though it graduated most of its guard play, the Ranchers return forward Levi Hoiby, who could be the best player in the region. It won’t be a strong region and it’s essentially completely up for grabs at this point. Runner-up — Tioga.
Sun sportswriter Chris Aarhus can be reached by at (701) 952-8462 or by email at email@example.com