Vikings grasp the glory

MINNEAPOLIS – Emotion and desire approaching their peak, Taylor Reiss looked to the Target Center rafters and let out a scream midway through the second half of Saturday’s Class A girls’ basketball championship game. She had just outmuscled a trio of Ada-Borup players under the basket to rip away a rebound off her own miss, went back up, scored a layup and drew a foul.

Locked in a fierce battle with the team that knocked her Minneota Vikings out of the state tournament in the first round a season ago, the 5-foot-10 sophomore forward was on a mission. Her team had just taken the lead. She wasn’t going to have any part in letting it go.

With 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining in the game, Reiss grabbed another offensive rebound after teammate Emily Stienessen missed a free throw and, while falling backwards, somehow got a putback attempt to go in to give the Vikings a 52-47 lead. It was the basket that broke the Cougars’ back.

Behind a 30-point, 12-rebound performance by Reiss, Minneota defeated Ada-Borup 61-51 to claim the first-ever state basketball title in school history.

“I took it upon myself to make sure that my team won this because I feel like sometimes it’s my responsibility, if we’re down, that I have to bring my team up and I have to make some crucial buckets for us,” said Reiss, who earned All-Tournament Team honors along with Stienessen and Minneota junior forward Molly Hennen.

With a clear size advantage over the Cougars, who don’t have anyone on their roster over 5-9, the Vikings totally dominated Ada-Borup down low. They held a 40-20 rebounding edge and pulled down 17 offensive boards, including nine by Reiss alone. Minneota also finished with a 20-4 advantage in second-chance points.

It was a rebounding performance reminiscent of a season ago in the state quarterfinals when Minneota controlled the glass and got off 65 shot attempts to Ada-Borup’s 29, but lost by four points due to shooting struggles. The disappointment of back-to-back first-round exits at state was something that sophomore guard Payton Boerboom said fueled the Vikings to their 2013 title run.

“The past couple of years I thought we deserved to move on but it didn’t happen,” said Boerboom, who had 13 points and nine rebounds Saturday. “I think the burning passion and fire that was in our stomachs… we needed this. It was a must that we win, and it worked out, obviously.”

The two teams battled back and forth in the first half with four ties and seven lead changes. Despite out-rebounding Ada-Borup 22-8, Minneota found itself trailing 29-27 at halftime, in part due to 11 turnovers.

The Vikings continued to pound the boards in the second half and picked up their intensity on defense. After allowing the Cougars to shoot 47.8 percent in the first 18 minutes, Minneota held Ada-Borup to 32.0 percent in the second half.

Hennen played a key role in the defensive effort. Her assignment was to slow down Ada-Borup senior forward Megan Kolness, who was perfect from the field last year against Minneota and scored a game-high 25 points. Saturday, Hennen used her athleticism and her long 5-10 frame to prevent Kolness from getting any easy looks. Kolness ended up scoring a team-high 12 points, but was just 3-for-11 shooting.

“The girl I was guarding, she was 100 percent last year, 11-for-11, so I knew I had to stay with her because she was going to be really aggressive and wouldn’t be afraid to shoot any threes or drive on me,” said Hennen, who was scoreless Saturday but had seven rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals.

While picking up its defensive intensity, Minneota also began to find more of a rhythm on the offensive end. The Vikings started the half on a 9-2 run, then gave up a 7-0 run that included four points from Kolness and a jumper by Miki Lee that gave Ada-Borup a 38-36 lead with 10:21 left. That’s the last lead the Cougars would have in the game.

Boerboom drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing following an offensive rebound by Reiss, then Reiss scored back-to-back baskets, first converting on a three-point play and then getting a bucket down low after receiving a feed from Hennen from the top of the key.

Reiss scored 16 of her points in the second half, her two biggest coming on the putback after Stienessen missed a free throw with 1:35 remaining to put the Vikings up 52-47. She followed that with a defensive rebound on the other end, was fouled and hit a pair of foul shots to extend the lead to seven.

The Vikings played the final 2:33 without junior point guard Shelby Corbin, who picked up her fifth foul trying to get free to receive an inbounds pass coming out of a timeout. With just a one-possession lead and their floor general fouled out, it was Reiss who stepped up for the Vikings, much like she had all game.

“You know what, they always talk about it, big players step up for big games,” Minneota head coach Chad Johnston said. “Obviously (Reiss) did. That was our strength and we did a great job of utilizing that.

“That’s putting pressure on the girl but I thought she stepped up and did a wonderful job. It’s a credit to the team to realize what our strength was and to not be selfish and to continue to feed her and feed off the fact that that was our strength.”

Boerboom made two free throws and Stienessen was 5-for-6 from the foul line in the final minute on her way to 11 points as the Vikings closed out the game. The players let out huge smiles as they made their trips to the free throw line, knowing the had their 17th straight win, their 30th win of the season and their first-ever state title well in hand.

“This is exciting. It’s unbelievable,” Stienessen said. “To be a part of the team that won the first championship feels great.”