Tigers go 26-3, exceed expectations
Scott Kramer was hoping the third trip to the Section 6A title game would be the charm for the Nevis girls basketball team. The Tigers, who were denied trips to state by Hawley in 2002 (53-31) and in 2003 (44-32), were hoping to qualify for the s...
Scott Kramer was hoping the third trip to the Section 6A title game would be the charm for the Nevis girls basketball team.
The Tigers, who were denied trips to state by Hawley in 2002 (53-31) and in 2003 (44-32), were hoping to qualify for the school's first trip to state in their third trip to the Section 6A title game. Nevis held a 14-8 lead midway through the first half before Ada-Borup went on a 14-1 run to end the half and spark a 60-42 victory.
Failing to advance to state was the only goal the Tigers didn't accomplish this season. Nevis went 11-1 to win the Northwoods Conference title, rallied to defeat Verndale 42-41 to win the Section 6A East championship, and ended the season with a 26-3 record to tie the school record for most wins in a season (the 2001-2002 team went 26-4).
All things considered, it was another successful season for the Tigers
"The season was extremely successful," said Kramer. "We accomplished all but one of the goals we set out to achieve and that was making it to the state tournament."
Nevis opened the season by winning its first 12 games. The Tigers dominated their first six opponents by defeating Northome-Kelliher 88-24, Clearbrook-Gonvick 55-39, Blackduck 68-36, Laporte 62-28, Red Lake 99-21 and Hill City 48-31 before winning the title at the Walker holiday tournament with victories over Pequot Lakes (44-38), Laporte (50-40) and Badger (36-32). Badger was ranked No. 3 in the state Class A poll at the time.
A 55-52 overtime win over Menahga, a 65-29 win over Cass Lake and a 49-33 win over Pillager followed as the Tigers improved to 12-0 and moved up to the No. 4 spot in the state Class A poll.
A 67-40 loss to Crosby-Ironton ended that unbeaten streak, but the Tigers rebounded to put together a nine-game winning streak. Wins over North-land Remer (57-39), Sebeka (56-35), Walker-Hacken-sack-Akeley (66-42), Vern-dale (51-40), Northome-Kelliher (89-52), Pine River-Backus (44-35), Laporte (39-33 in overtime), Cass Lake (70-32) and PR-B (53-47) gave the Tigers a 21-1 record.
W-H-A prevented Nevis from going undefeated in conference play with a 40-39 win, but the Tigers ended the regular season by defeating Clearbrook-Gonvick 56-44 and Blackduck 82-32 to lock up the conference title for the fourth time in the last five years.
Nevis, the No. 1 seed in the East, opened section play with wins over Cass Lake (71-54) and Hill City (54-47) before rallying from a 14-point deficit in the second half to edge Verndale 42-41 for the East title. The loss to Ada-Borup in the section title game at Concordia prevented the Tigers from accomplishing their main goal of playing at state.
"(The loss to W-H-A) actually helped us focus going into tournament play," said Kramer. "The (East) final against Verndale is one I won't soon forget. Our girls dug a hole that I wasn't sure we could climb out of. But once again, like all year long, they didn't give up and we were able to make one of the most remarkable comebacks I've seen at this level. (Against Ada-Borup) we played well for the first 14 minutes of the first half, but they made a nice run to take control of the game and we were not able to overcome the deficit."
For the season, Nevis averaged 57.6 points a game while holding the opposition to 39.3 points a game, which was the seventh-best defensive effort for all Class A teams. The Tigers' 18.3 differential in scoring was the 10th-best in Class A. Nevis shot 40.2 percent from the field and 53.2 percent at the free-throw line while averaging 13.2 turnovers a game.
Leading the Tigers this season was the starting unit of senior Ali Hesse, senior Jill Wizik, junior Anne Rittgers, sophomore Gretta Hjelseth and sophomore Jaci Heath. Seniors Jess Mastrian, Missy Luebbert, Jess Luebbert and Holly Lenander provided depth off the bench.
Hesse was named an all-state honorable mention player by the Minnesota Girls Basketball Associa-tion and joined Hjelseth as all-state honorable mention players by the Associa-ted Press. Hesse, Hjelseth and Wizik were named first team all-conference while Rittgers and Heath were named to second team all-conference.
Hesse became the Tigers' all-time leading scorer with 1,344 points after averaging a team-leading 13.9 points a game. Hesse made 168 of 346 field goals (48.6 percent) and 65 of 116 free throws (56 percent) while scoring 403 points, including a high of 24. Hesse also finished second on the team with 196 rebounds (6.8 per night) while adding 50 assists in 29 games.
Hjelseth led the team in 3-pointers with 49 and was second on the team in scoring with 386 points (13.8 per night) with a high of 29. Hjelseth played in 28 games and shot 45.5 percent from the field (141 for 310, including 49 for 136 on 3-pointers) and 61.8 percent at the line (55 for 89). Hjelseth also was second on the team with 82 assists and fourth on the team in rebounds with 158.
Wizik was the Tigers' point guard who averaged 8.3 points and a team-leading 4.1 assists per game. In 29 games, Wizik shot 36.4 percent from the field (79 for 217, including 23 for 87 on 3-pointers) and 59.4 percent at the line (60 for 101). Wizik also had a season high of 18 points and finished the season with 70 rebounds.
Rittgers was fourth on the team in scoring at 7.1 points a game and led the Tigers in rebounding with 204 (7.0 per game). Rittgers made 67 of 209 field goals, including 80 of 113 3-pointers (32.1 percent) and shot 58.6 percent at the line (41 for 70). Rittgers had a season high of 23 points and ended the year with 205 points and 41 assists in 29 games.
Heath played in 28 games and averaged 6.2 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. Heath shot 44.3 percent from the field (74 for 167) and 45.5 percent at the line (22 for 49) while compiling 174 points, 169 rebounds and 66 assists. Her season high was 15 points.
Mastrian made 28 of 98 shots (including 10 of 47 3-pointers) and 17 of 28 free throws in scoring 83 points. Mastrian also had 23 assists and 52 rebounds in 27 appearances. Mastrian had a season high of 10 points.
Missy Luebbert played in all 28 games and had 62 points, 63 rebounds and 18 assists. Luebbert made 25 of 66 field goals and 12 of 43 free throws.
Jess Luebbert contributed 49 points (including 10 in one game), 41 rebounds and five assists in 14 games while Lenander had 36 points, 36 rebounds and nine assists in 22 games. Luebbert made 14 of 44 field goals and 21 of 51 free throws while Lenander made 10 of 44 field goals and 10 of 20 free throws.
Also seeing some varsity playing time this season were sophomore Elisa Andrus, freshmen Erin Walters and Cassie Edwards, and eighth-grader Becca Gunkel.
"I can't say enough about this group of girls. The entire starting five are honor roll students and great role models for the younger student-athletes in the school," said Kramer. "They are hard workers and I'm very fortunate to have been able to coach them."
The Tigers have six key spots to replace next season. However, with Rittgers, Hjelseth and Heath returning to the starting lineup, Kramer is counting on Nevis to continue its winning tradition next winter.
"Looking ahead to next year, we obviously have some shoes to fill. Hesse was the heart and soul of our team, Wizik was a sparkplug for us and the other seniors provided depth inside and out. We will miss the leadership of our entire senior class. They have had great careers and have represented our team and school with a lot of class," said Kramer. "On the upside, we return three starters from a very good team. The real question mark for us will be in our 9th and 10th grade classes. We have some talent there, but the summer will tell the real story. If the girls can get to the gym and make progress over the summer, we should be very competitive again next season."