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Prep girls basketball: MIB's Mason is All-Area Player of the Year

Clint Austin / Chelsea Mason (14) of Mountain Iron-Buhl drives around McKenzie Ryan of Goodhue during the Class A state championship game at Williams Arena in Minneapolis last month. Mason became Northeastern Minnesota's first 3,000-point scorer and a three-time News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year.

To fully appreciate the impact a player like Chelsea Mason can have on a program, Mountain Iron-Buhl girls basketball coach Jeff Buffetta says you have to delve beyond the numbers.

But, man, the numbers are hard to ignore.

Consider: Mason became the first Northeastern Minnesota girl to score 3,000 career points; notched a state-record 921 steals; helped the Rangers compile a 176-16 record since 2011-12 and extend their streak of state tournament appearances to seven; and produced three of the top eight single-season steal totals in Minnesota annals.

Heady stuff, but it’s not what defines Mason’s six-year stint at MIB, Buffetta said. No, the paramount impression stems from the example set by Mason and fellow outgoing senior Mya Buffetta, the coach’s niece. The two spearheaded the Rangers’ transformation into Class A powers.

“It wasn’t just their stats; it was their dedication,” Jeff Buffetta said, noting his standouts abstained from Amateur Athletic Union competition to train with their high school teammates.

It’s that kind of commitment, the coach said, that solidified a winning foundation.

“I really believe that when you watch two kids play for six years like we have, I think not only the kids in our school, but I think kids around the rest of northern Minnesota want to follow that example and they want to have the same success that those two have had,” he said.

Mason’s success includes being named the News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year for a third consecutive season, recognition as one of five Miss Basketball finalists and a fifth coaches association All-State first-team distinction. She is a sprinter, a pickpocket and a natural scorer all rolled up into one rare basketball player.

How do the Rangers replace that?

“When Charlotte (Overbye) graduated six years ago, people thought we were going to drop off,” Jeff Buffetta said. “Then Dakotah Winans graduated, the Ostmans (Kathy and Laura) graduated — we’ve had a lot of good ones graduate. But you know what? The next people step up.”

MIB has developed a reputation as a team that never stops coming. The Rangers’ in-your-face defense and attacking offense were predicated on Mason’s quickness. That includes her hands. Where do you think all those steals came from?

There was a tradeoff, of course. That quickness triggered 921 steals and countless fast-break points, but it also drew the scrutiny of officials. After MIB defeated Maranatha Christian Academy in the state tournament semifinals, Mya Buffetta was asked if the victory reminded her at all of the 2016 semifinal loss to the Mustangs.

“For me it did a little bit. Chelsea was in foul trouble again,” joked the point guard, who tallied 2,186 career points.

Last week, Buffetta added: “She’s gotten in foul trouble this year and in years past, but she always makes up for it.”

Mason tried to pick her spots. She didn’t always succeed. There is no record for fouls, but if there were?

“I’d probably win that,” Mason quipped.

The 5-foot-8 guard never set out to produce eye-popping numbers. She said the steals record means more than the 3,034 points because she takes so much pride in her defense. All of it remains a little surreal, though, to the soft-spoken girl who grew up in Orr before coming to Mountain Iron-Buhl in sixth grade.

“I never thought I’d accomplish the things that I have,” said Mason, who averaged 21.6 points, 6.2 steals, 5 assists and 4.5 rebounds during her final prep campaign. “It’s exciting to say that I did, that I worked so hard and was able to do that.”

The Rangers acknowledge getting over this latest state tournament, notably a 73-51 loss to Goodhue in the championship game after defeating the same opponent by 44 points in December, has taken longer than usual. That’s likely because there no longer is a “next year” for the likes of Mason and Mya Buffetta, fixtures on Northland courts since President Obama’s first term.

While Buffetta will play at the University of Jamestown (N.D.) next season, Mason almost certainly has experienced her final organized basketball game. It’s by design — she’d have no shortage of suitors if the interest was mutual. But Mason wants to focus on her education. She plans to study either pharmacy or administration, hopefully at Minnesota Duluth.

“I know I’m going to miss it, and it’s going to be weird for me not always having to do something that deals with basketball,” she said. “It sounds strange because I’ve done it for so long, but I just want to know how it feels without it.”

She departs with no regrets. MIB didn’t capture the state title that has eluded the Rangers, but, as Jeff Buffetta said, “Losing one game doesn’t tarnish the 189 previous games.”

“I wouldn’t have changed anything that happened during the season,” Mason said. “It was so much fun this year. It was just a great last season.”

Northland girls basketball career scoring leaders

Player Year School Points

Megan Gustafson 2015 South Shore 3,229

Chelsea Mason 2017 Mtn. Iron-Buhl 3,034

Jolene Anderson 2004 South Shore 2,881

Darby Youngstrom 2014 North Woods 2,851

Charlotte Overbye 2011 Mtn. Iron-Buhl 2,658

Angie Chernugal 1994 Bigfork 2,442

Abby Hawkinson 2014 McGregor 2,254

Marisa Yernatich 2009 Duluth East 2,237

Colleen McKay 2007 Barnum 2,211

Mya Buffetta 2017 Mtn. Iron-Buhl 2,186

Judy McDonald 1984 Chisholm 2,152

Katrina Newman 2010 Barnum 2,141

Justine Axtell 2003 Barnum 2,136

Heaven Hamling 2018 Grand Rapids 2,091

Jessica Lindstrom 2014 Superior 2,065

Karli Gross 2002 Greenway 2,045

Stacy Ruberg 1995 Two Harbors 2,025

Emily Youngstrom 2011 Cook 2,024

Mariah McDonald 2012 Ely 2,003

News Tribune All-Area Players of the Year

Year Player School

2017 Chelsea Mason Mountain Iron-Buhl

2016 Chelsea Mason Mountain Iron-Buhl

2015 Chelsea Mason Mountain Iron-Buhl

2014 Jessica Lindstrom Superior

2013 Jessica Lindstrom Superior

2012 Jessica Lindstrom Superior

2011 Jessica Newman Barnum

2010 Katrina Newman Barnum

2009 Marisa Yernatich Duluth East

2008 Megan Myhre Barnum

2007 Colleen McKay Barnum

2006 Anna Bjorlin Hermantown

2005 Jenna Reinemann Duluth East

2004 Jolene Anderson South Shore

2003 Justine Axtell Barnum

2002 Justine Axtell Barnum

2001 Jackie Plesha Mesabi East

2000 Katie Pavlich Cloquet

1999 Meghan Overom Duluth Marshall

1998 Kim Toewe Grand Rapids

1997 Laura Hanson Hermantown

1996 Gina Perich Esko

1995 Anna Townsend Esko

1994 Sadie Suomala Mountain Iron-Buhl