Apr. 9—MINNEAPOLIS — Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa is getting the game it wanted.
In a non-conference game between two of Class A’s best girls basketball teams back on Feb. 20, top-ranked Minneota held off the then-fourth ranked Jaguars for a 42-38 victory.
“I definitely think we will see this team again at state and we will compete as hard or harder,” BBE senior forward Jackie Lindsay said after that game.
As it turns out, the Jaguars will get that rematch on the biggest stage when the two teams meet for the Class A championship at 1 p.m. Friday at the Target Center.
“Minneota has a solid program and a tradition both in volleyball and girls basketball,” said BBE head coach Kristina Anderson. “The last two seasons against Minneota, even though we came out with a loss, those games gave our team a lot of confidence that we can play with these elite teams.
“Losing to them on their home court, it made us hungry to get better and have a goal of meeting them down at the state tournament. Having that rematch in the state finals, you can’t ask for anything more.”
For the Jaguars to win their first state championship, they have to get through one of the standard bearers in Class A. Since 2011, the Vikings have reached state nine times. They were the state champions in 2019 and 2013, and the runner-up in 2014.
Video Interview: BBE’s Knightrider with Jaguars star Allisa Knight
Minneota was in the state semifinals in 2020 but was unable to play in a second straight championship game after the girls basketball tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than a year of waiting, they’re ready to retake the Class A throne.
“We’ve been very fortunate in what we’ve built,” said Vikings head coach Chad Johnston. “A lot of good kids have come through our program. We were disappointed last year that we didn’t get an opportunity to show what we can do. … Fortunately for us, we only graduated one senior. We had a lot of experience coming back and we went into this season with high expectations.”
The top player in Minneota’s lineup is senior guard Abby Hennen, who surpassed 2,000 career points during the Section 3A playoffs. In two state playoff games, she has averaged 20 points. She also proved to be clutch in the state semifinals against Mountain Iron-Buhl when she drew a foul with 2.1 seconds to play and hit a free throw to give the Vikings a 54-53 victory.
“She’s a long, athletic guard that can not only shoot the three, but she attacks the basket hard,” Anderson said of Hennen. “Abby (Berge) will get the job of guarding (Hennen). It should be a fun matchup to see the Abbys go at it.
“If we can find her and make her supporting cast beat us, we put ourselves in a good position to win.”
The last two seasons, Minneota has a record of 55-1, with the one loss coming against Class AA Goodhue, 64-44, on Jan. 11, 2020. The Vikings have not lost a game to a Class A opponent since losing to Lyle-Austin Pacelli in the state semifinals on March 16, 2018.
But few teams have played Minneota as tough as BBE over the last two seasons. In that span, the Vikings have played in five games — all wins — decided by single digits. The Jaguars took part in two of those games. Along with the game in February, the Vikings won the 2019-20 matchup, 45-44.
Those tight contests have gained Minneota’s respect.
“They’re a very good team with good balance,” Johnston said. “They hang their hat on defense. That’s what impresses me the most, their in-your-face type of defense, and not just in the half-court but full-court. That’s the thing that keeps them in the game a lot of the time.”
Johnston continued, “They have the potential to get some outside shots; There are a couple girls that really didn’t get going (in the semis against Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s) that I’ve seen in other games have big nights. They’ve got good things they can do on the outside, then you have two post players, one very physical and one very tall and athletic. (Allisa) Knight changes a lot of shots in the paint.”
Anderson knows that game in February wasn’t their best effort against Minneota. To the Vikings’ credit, they force things to go wrong for opposing teams. They rank sixth in Class A in defense (38.8 points allowed/game) and seventh on offense (67.3 points/game). Both teams are tied for fourth in Class A in point differential (28.5 per game).
“I think there’s a lot we learned from that game,” Anderson said. “We were slow on some rotations and we didn’t rebound well. That’s going to be a key statistic (on Friday) is who can win the rebound battle. On the offensive side, we want to really exploit some mismatches and use our posts a little more.”
The Jaguars got the game they wanted. Now, they’re hoping the third time’s the charm.
“The girls are excited and I’ve been in awe of how good and how intense our practices have been the last two weeks,” Anderson said. “We know what we’re up against and know the type of team they are. The girls have the confidence that they can play with this team and compete with them. Not only that, but get the win over them.
“The pressure’s on Minneota as defending champs. We’ll come in and give them our best shot.”
Girls State Pairings
(at Target Center, Minneapolis)
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s 50
Minneota 54, Mountain Iron-Buhl 53
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (23-1) vs. Minneota (24-0), 1 p.m.
Albany 72, Glencoe-Silver Lake 49
Providence Academy 58, New London-Spicer 54
Albany (23-1) vs. Providence Academy (22-1), 3 p.m.
Marshall 75, Holy Angels 58
Becker 84, Hill-Murray 51
Marshall (22-0) vs. Becker (18-3), 6 p.m.
Chaska 67, Hopkins 62
Rosemount 40, Centennial 33
Chaska (17-0) vs. Rosemount (20-3), 9 p.m.
Boys State Pairings
(at Target Center, Minneapolis)
Hancock 65, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s 53
Hayfield 79, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 53
Hancock (18-5) vs. Hayfield (20-4), 1 p.m.
Caledonia 60, Minneapolis North 55
Waseca 72, Fergus Falls 58
Caledonia (23-1) vs. Waseca (22-1, 3 p.m.
Alexandria 66, Richfield 64
Minnehaha Academy 79, DeLaSalle 58
Alexandria (22-1) vs. Minnehaha Academy (19-1), 6 p.m.
Cretin-Derham Hall 54, Maple Grove 42
Wayzata 72, Shakopee 43
Cretin-Derham Hall (17-5) vs. Wayzata (18-2), 8 p.m.