The 2019-20 season wrapped up yesterday evening with Langdon Area-Edmore-Munich capping off its historic season with its first championship as a co-op. The No. 1-seeded Cardinals finished the year undefeated (27-0) after they defeated No. 2-seed Grafton 52-41.
It was a record setting Saturday evening session at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center with 3, 682 in attendance. And we don’t want to leave those fans hanging now that we’ve entered the offseason so here are 10 way-to-early favorites to win the 2020-21 championship:
10. Shiloh Christian
Shiloh Christian burst onto the state tournament scene two seasons ago, however, they’ve gone 1-5 in those games. The Skyhawks are headed in the right direction though as five underclassmen saw action this weekend in Grand Forks. Next season Shiloh Christian will be without three seniors in Kelsey Mischel, Allison Jordan and Keia White Eagle but they have players to replace what they are losing. Notably junior 6-foot-3 center Jacie Hall who is already one of the best post players in the state and led the Skyhawks in scoring at the state tournament. Shiloh Christian also brings back sophomores Grace Kelly and Kennady Walth along with freshman sharp-shooter Aliya Schock. The three of them each played 28 minutes or more in the Skyhawks’ final two games of the 2019-20 state tournament.
After Jan. 16, Kenmare only lost one contest and that came to Trenton in the Region 8 title game. The Honkers finished 19-5 and have had back-to-back double-digit win seasons but the Tigers have stopped them along with many other Region 8 teams from reaching the state tournament. Kenmare brings back its entire roster except guard Ashley Bauer. The Honkers don’t have a lot of height — freshman Brenna Stroklund and Madison Melin are 5-foot-8 — but Kenmare will have the youth and defense to compete in every game.
Velva had a lot of upperclassmen on its roster this season but very few seniors. On the flip side, the senior the Aggies do lose is slasher/post player Kaitlyn Lund. Lund had a very solid career for Velva and she will be missed. But I think Chris Braaten’s team brings back enough where they can compete at a high level next season. In a District 11 semifinal game this season, seven Aggies finished in the scoring column and freshman Olivia Passa contributed a team-high 11 points. Next season Velva will have seven seniors but one of its best scorers in Passa will only be a sophomore.
Beulah pulled off one of the bigger upsets this season in its region tournament. The Miners earned the No. 7-seed in the Region 7 tournament and defeated No. 2-seed Heart River 49-44 in the quarterfinals. Rick Miller’s crew got bumped out of the tournament by Hettinger-Scranton but most of his roster returns next season. Beulah loses just one senior in Tia Horning but brings back eight student-athletes that are 5-foot-9 or taller. The Miners finished 15-10 on the year and lost four of their final five regular season games.
It was not a pretty finish to the 2019-20 season for Region 3 team Linton-HMB. After starting the year 12-2, the Lions lost six of their final nine games. Linton-HMB will have the option to start five seniors next year but 10 of its student-athletes on the roster will either be juniors or sophomores. The Lions lost a 49-48 heartbreaker to Carrington in the Region 7 quarterfinals but with everyone returning I think Linton-HMB can put a full season together next year with second-year head coach Beau Diegel.
5. Central Cass
The deepest team in Class B is going to be a threat again next season. Earning a fourth-place finish at state this year will only give Central Cass more confidence heading into the offseason. The Squirrels do lose important pieces like Isabelle Linnard and Ema Lee but All-Tournament player Decontee Smith is back for her sophomore, yes, sophomore season. The Squirrels also bring back a pile of sophomores including Jaylin Cotton, Kailey McKinnon, Morgan Lee and Rylie Holzer. Twelve Central Cass underclassmen saw minutes at this year’s state tournament.
4. Langdon Area-Edmore-Munich
Yes, I know L-E-M has to move on from state tournament MVP Callie Ronningen but this team is loaded with talent. And when you have the best coach in Class B on your side anything is possible. Along with Ronningen, the Cardinals have to say goodbye to 3-point standout Kaitlynn Scherr. However, Morgan Freije will be back for her junior season and Lexis Olson will be one of L-E-M’s two seniors. It’ll also be fun to see how eighth-graders Jaya Henderson and Cora Badding improve over the offseason along with sophomore Marlee Hetletved. Losing one of the best players in Class B hurts the Cardinals but they’ll be locked and loaded ready to defend the 2019-20 title.
Rugby has won 20-plus games in each of the last five seasons. The Panthers have made it to three straight state tournaments and I predict a fourth next season. Jen Brossart’s team brings back its top three players in juniors Brooke Blessum and Sarah Blessum along with sophomore Mykell Heidlebaugh. Rugby will have a nice mix of players next season with nine upperclassmen and four underclassmen. I know Brossart and the Panthers are eager to win a state championship especially after playing for one in 2019.
Kindred has dominated Class B the last handful of years but its state tournament appearance run came to an end this season. The Vikings finally graduate some student-athletes this year (Jordyn Burner, Alexi Foss and Josie Lundquist) but bring back North Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year in Abby Duchscherer and double-double machine Terryn Johnson. Both Duchscherer and Johnson will be juniors and the duo is one of the best one-two punches in Class B. Kindred lost one game this season and I think that loss to Central Cass in the Region 1 championship is really going to motivate the Vikings next year.
Twenty-seven turnovers is going to haunt Grafton and head coach Laurie Sieben this offseason. Luckily, for the Spoilers, the team that earned a 2019-20 runner-up finish will all be back next season. Junior Carlee Sieben has the mentality of a champion and will spend the next handful of months in the gym preparing for the 2020-21 state title game that’s just the type of player she is. Juniors Julia Dusek and Cassie Sieben will spend this offseason crafting their skills and will have to take on heavier leadership roles next year. The Spoilers are also going to get tremendous growth out of freshman 6-foot-3 center Walker Demers and sophomores Reagan Hanson and Cassie Erickson. Grafton had the pieces to win a state championship this year but going into next season the Spoilers are the favorites.