Virginia boys and girls basketball teams are celebrating a turnaround
Which Northland school's boys and girls basketball teams have combined for the most victories during the first half of the high school season? Barnum? Incorrect, even though both Bombers teams are undefeated and ranked in the top three in the state.
Which Northland school's boys and girls basketball teams have combined for the most victories during the first half of the high school season?
Barnum? Incorrect, even though both Bombers teams are undefeated and ranked in the top three in the state.
How about Northwestern? Good guess, but the Tigers are stymied by Wisconsin's 20-game limit compared to Minnesota's 26-game schedule.
After victories Tuesday night, Virginia's teams already topped last season's combined victory total of 20. The boys are 9-0, have cracked the 100-point barrier three times and beaten five opponents by at least 30 points. The girls are 12-1 and have held nine foes below 50 points.
"Certainly we felt we had reason to be optimistic [heading into the season]," Virginia boys coach Rich Odell said, "but we didn't expect to be this dominant at this point."
The Blue Devils were .500 last season but returned four starters, including All-Iron Range Conference performers Craig Skalko and Keaton Romsaas.
"[Craig] and Keaton are as good as inside players, in terms of scoring, that we've had as long as I've been here," said Odell, in his 17th season as head coach.
Both started the season strong -- the 6-foot-5 Skalko averaging 21.9 points and Romsaas 19.0 -- before Romsaas was diagnosed with mononucleosis and missed the last two games. The senior forward could be out most of this month.
"It might help us in the long run," Skalko said about reserves getting playing time and seasoning them before the playoffs. "The adversity that you face is what makes you a team."
Odell tends to agree.
"We're at the point where we need to be challenged," he said. "With Keaton out for a while, you find out what kind of a team you have. Sometimes you have to have that adversity to find out what kind of character you have."
Will Jackson gives the Blue Devils another scoring option. Although he was expected to most helpful on the boards, the junior center entered Tuesday tied with Skalko as the team's leading scorer.
"We didn't know he was going to score like this," Skalko said.
The girls team has spread the points around.
"The key to our success has been our defense and our balance in scoring," coach Byron Negen said before Friday's 59-46 loss at Hermantown.
The Blue Devils were 7-20 last season and, with no seniors, weren't expected to make a big splash this season. But the eight juniors know each others' games well, having played together since sixth grade.
"The big thing this year is that we have a team that plays together," Negen said. "That's been our whole focus. We talk to them every day that we need everybody to contribute. Chemistry is something that we've lacked the last three years."
Both on the court and off. That's no longer a problem, according to junior Alexis Podpeskar.
"We fought so much last year, it's such a big difference," the 5-9 forward-center said. "Even off the court we have each other's backs. We're on the same page."
Podpeskar said the players are having a lot more fun, too. Winning 11 straight to start the season only enhanced their enthusiasm. How far can they go in a competitive Section 7AA?
"We have a really good chance at winning a lot of games as long as we stick together and keep doing what we've been doing," she said.
Barnum is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Class A boys basketball state championship before Friday's 7:30 p.m. home game against Moose Lake-Willow River. A large number of ex-players and coaches are expected to attend.
* Sophomore guard Sari Noga of Parkers Prairie broke the Minnesota girls basketball record for 3-point baskets in a game with 13 in a 97-35 win Friday at Rothsay. She made 13 of 15 3-point attempts and finished with 53 points. She's averaging 31 points a game. The previous record was 10 3-pointers, held by three players.
* Minnesota's top-ranked high school Nordic skiers -- Andover junior Joe Dubay and Stillwater sophomore Jessie Diggins -- have been named to the U.S. team for the J1 Scandinavian Championships on Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Otepaa, Estonia. The state meet is Feb. 15.
RICK WEEGMAN covers prep sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or at email@example.com .