Minneota maintains its dominance, claims 3A-North title again

MARSHALL – The third time was not a charm for the Dawson-Boyd girls’ basketball team as it faced the Minneota Vikings in the Section 3A-North championship Friday night at Southwest Minnesota State University.

The No. 2 seed Blackjacks fought their way back from a 27-18 halftime deficit to pull to within three points during the first two minutes of the second half. But top-seeded Minneota responded to the challenge and quickly built a double-digit lead and never looked back as the Vikings won the playoff battle 52-32

The Vikings got a strong inside-outside performance by Taylor Reiss, who posted a 17-point, 14-rebound double-double, and Emily Stienessen, who poured in 17 points and dished out four assists.

“We’ll take a win at this point in time,” Minneota head coach Chad Johnston said. “Obviously, it allows you to keep playing for another one. We have another week to try and fix things, get better and get ourselves into the state tournament. That’s what we want.”

With the win, the Vikings move one step closer to defending their Section 3A championship title for the third straight year. Minneota will face Wabasso, the top-seeded team in the south subsection, at 5:30 p.m. Friday at SMSU. Both teams are 26-2.

“Getting to state is one of our goals,” Stienessen said. “We want to get there. Hopefully we play tough defense, work our offense and get there.”

While optimistic, Stienessen knows there is still work to be done.

“Our shots were falling pretty good (Friday), but they got through our defense, our press, pretty good,” she said. “And we need to get our passes together because they weren’t very good (Friday).”

Dawson-Boyd came out on fire in the second half, and behind two baskets from Mari Lee and one from Justine Flattum, the Blackjacks pulled to within three points at 27-24. But following a basket from Reiss, Stienessen converted a free throw and drained back-to-back 3-pointers to give Minneota a 36-25 lead with 12 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the game.

“We were hitting some outside shots, which made Taylor come open a little bit and make them come out and play defense on us,” Stienessen said. “We really had to hit those shots to make them come out on us. Otherwise, I don’t know what we would have done.”

The Vikings shot 50 percent from the perimeter, hitting 6 of 12. Stienessen shot 4-for-5 from behind the arc. On the flip side, Minneota played stout all-around defense, allowing only one 3-pointer and only four perimeter shots to be taken.

“I thought our defensive pressure was good, in the half-court pressure and especially around the perimeter,” Johnston said. “Their shots were forced and contested. Justine Lee had a great night the other night. We thought we did a great job on her. We didn’t leave her wide open. And when you get frustrated and then left wide open, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to hit those shots. I was happy about our defense.”

Lee’s only points of the night came from two free throws made at the 8:42 mark in the first half, though she contributed eight assists, six rebounds and two steals in the game. Katarina Kuhlmann led the Blackjacks with eight points, followed by Mari Lee’s seven and Flattum’s six.

“We carried the momentum for a little bit in the second half, but again, a credit to Minneota,” Dawson-Boyd head coach Randy Haakensen said. “They have so many weapons and so many people who can step up. Emily shot the ball well and Taylor is just so physical inside. We struggle with physicality and she’s the epitome of physicality.”

Minneota jumped out to a 5-1 lead after two Reiss free throws and Stienessen’s first 3-pointer. After a steal from Megan Larson was converted in a layup by Kelsey Maeyaert, the Vikings held a 13-6 edge. The team earned its first double-digit lead with 1:37 left in the first half when Shelby Corbin found Molly Hennen on a fast break. Corbin led the team with four steals in the matchup, while Hennen hauled down eight rebounds.

With the playoff game on the line, the Vikings didn’t leave anything to chance. After Mari Lee hit both free throws with 7:40 remaining in the second half, Minneota put up eight straight points, taking a 50-29 lead. While the Vikings shot 44 percent from the floor, the Blackjacks shot 33 percent.

“One of the differences in the game was our reluctance to shoot the ball,” Haakensen said. “We have a tendency when we play better ball clubs to shut down a little bit and we’re afraid to shoot the ball. We’re afraid to make mistakes. Defensively we always do, I feel, a lot of good things.”

One of the positives, Haakensen said, was that his team played Minneota the toughest of anyone throughout the season. Dawson-Boyd lost to the Vikings 48-33 on Jan. 25 and 51-36 on Feb. 19.

“I’m pretty confident that we held them to their three lowest scores of the year,” he said.

The most difficult part, Haakensen said, is to hang up the season, especially for the seniors. The team finished with a 23-4 record.

“It’s easy for us to get down on a loss, especially in the position we were in, in the sub-section final,” he said. “Nobody wants to lose at this time of year. But I asked the girls to take a look at the big picture and that was that we won 23 basketball games. It’s been a long time since we’ve won 20 games at Dawson-Boyd.”

While the Vikings did a lot of things well, like outrebounding the Blackjacks 28-17, they’ll have to improve before facing the Rabbits on Friday, Johnston said.

“We need to clean some things up offensively,” he said. “We need to get back to being an offensive weapon as a group. We’re to need to do that to be successful next week.”