PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL / SEASON PREVIEW
Hermantown girls basketball player Maddy Foster has watched the video of her tumbling a thousand times, but she still can't tell you where it all went wrong.
People want it to be a little more dramatic.
"Everyone keeps asking if I heard a pop," she said, "but really, it just hurt."
When Foster went down near midcourt after colliding with another player in the Hawks' 49-43 loss at Esko on Nov. 29, she knew something wasn't right, and she was right.
"I was just going after the ball, and I hit one of the Esko players, and nothing good came out of that," Foster said.
Foster, a senior guard, tore the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and is out for the season. If this sounds familiar, it is, with Hermantown losing star forward Taylor Vold to a knee injury last year.
If there's a silver lining, it's that the Hawks have more time to adjust this season.
"Taylor tore her knee pretty late last season, and it was hard to recover, especially losing a player like her," Foster said. "My team has the time to get everything figured out. I know they'll be just fine without me."
Beth Clark is in her 31st season as Hermantown's coach and doesn't recall anything quite like this, losing her top player in back-to-back seasons.
"I don't know if we've had two major knee injuries in the 30-plus years I've been here, and now we've had two in the last nine months," Clark said. "It certainly makes you think, 'What are we doing different? What should we be doing instead?' I know it's just coincidental, and that's part of the game, but you feel horrible for the kid, especially when they put so much into it like Maddy. It's just a bummer for them."
Vold just returned to action for Bemidji State, scoring three points and collecting three rebounds Friday night and having seven points and three rebounds on Saturday in her first games back. Foster, a captain and Hermantown's lone senior, also would like to play college basketball.
"It's going to take time, but Maddy has the drive and determination to make that happen," Clark said. "She's very motivated, and I know she's talked to Taylor about it. Sometimes you have to lean on each other a little bit to get through the tough times."
As a player, Foster is fearless.
She had 23 points in Hermantown's regular-season win over Grand Rapids in January, but after Vold went out, the Hawks struggled as Grand Rapids rolled to the Section 7AAA title and went on to finish third at the Class AAA state tournament.
Now, it's Foster awaiting surgery.
"When Maddy crumbled to the floor, we all had that shocked look on our face because we saw it not too long ago," Clark said. "You fear for the worst but pray for the best."
In Hermantown's first game without Foster, sophomore Elly Schmitz scored 34 points but the Hawks fell 74-68 to Princeton. They've dropped four straight and are 1-4 on the season.
Hermantown also returns juniors Ava Asgaard, Brita Birkeland, Bryton Kukowski and Kora Parkinson, and sophomore guard Maiah Christianson.
"We lack experience, but we're only going to get better," Clark said. "We're going to be one of those teams that's going to be a tough out by the end of the season."
Foster, who also plays volleyball and lacrosse, will sit next to the coaches this season. Her attitude is admirable.
"This opens new doors in a way," Foster said. "I'm going to see basketball from a different perspective. I'm going to see the game more from a coach's perspective.
"I had a different idea of how my senior year was going to be, and this definitely threw a curveball at it. I don't even know how to describe it, but there's no use in having a negative attitude. That would just make it worse."
Elsewhere in Section 7AAA:
Grand Rapids graduated News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year Heaven Hamling but returns starters Hannah DeMars, Liberty Blaine and Meara Beighley. Hamling, who finished with 2,783 points, third-most in Northeastern Minnesota history, is playing at NCAA Division I Stephen F. Austin, averaging 18.8 minutes and 6.9 points game. Other returning players from last year's Class AAA state third-place team are Mya Roberts, Emily Wochnick, Maddi McKinney, Megan Lutz, Megan Denny and Brianna Scherping. New players are sophomore Merica Beighley and eighth-grader Taryn Hamling, younger sisters of Meara and Heaven, respectively. The Thunderhawks might lack height but pride themselves on having skilled players who can shoot inside and out and transition quickly on offense. DeMars, a senior guard, topped 1,000 career points in a 60-51 win over Cloquet on Thursday.
Hibbing has All-Area second-team selection Abbey McDonald (23.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.6 spg), the granddaughter of Chisholm coaching legend Bob McDonald. McDonald, a senior guard and St. Cloud State recruit, already is the school's leading scorer and topped 2,000 career points Friday night at Princeton. The Bluejackets also have added the well-traveled Eve Turner, who had previous stints at Esko and Proctor.
Cloquet has seven seniors, two juniors and a sophomore back, including returning starters in Allie Wojtysiak, Kate Owens and cousins Kendra and Vanna Kelley. Junior Phoebe Bieri has stepped into a starting role, while Olivia Diver, Grace Dushkin, Jess Liang, Abbie Collins and Mireye Moose will contribute. Coach Heather Young knows good defense can spark the offense. "We want to control what we can control, and that's our defense," she said.
Best of the rest
Superior returns four starters from a 10-13 season in Chloe Kintop, Niya Wilson, Maddy Myer and Lauren Raboin. "That experience will help us but we still have to learn how to win consistently, and that is not easy when you play good teams night in and night out," Spartans coach Dave Kontny said. Hailey Kontny, the three-time UMAC player of the year at Wisconsin-Superior from 2016-18, is assisting her father. Superior lacks size but has speed that should help on defense. Shooting was the team weakness last year but Dave Kontny expects that to be better with a year of experience. Emily Hunter, Izzy Swanson, Julie Haller are also back. Junior Kaileigh Miller steps into starting lineup after playing on the junior varsity last year, but guard Zoie Cole will be out for six weeks or longer due to injury.
Northwestern has a new coach in former Wisconsin-Superior men's coach Paul Eberhardt, who teaches social studies at the high school. The Tigers are off to a great start, improving to 5-0 with a 50-40 victory over Hayward on Friday night. Bloomer and Hayward have been in control of the Heart O' North Conference, but Eberhardt hopes Northwestern can challenge with second-team all-conference player Mackenzie Correll, a senior guard, and honorable mention selection Kennedy Nelson, a junior guard. Part-time starters Karsyn Jones and Kasha Hughlett also return, as well as senior Tory Anderson and juniors Tayva Plasch, Brooke Ogren, Jayda Klobucher and Brecken Oswskey.
Duluth East returns four starters in junior guards Macy Hermanson and Shay Callaway, sophomore forward Anna Libbon and eighth-grader Ashlynne Guenther in hopes of a better performance in Section 7AAAA than a year ago. Hermanson led the Greyhounds at 9.7 points per game last season followed by Callaway at 6.5. East should get big minutes from senior guard Elora Weiland, as well as 6-3 sophomore center Ava White, who was injured at the end of last season. Off the bench, East has up-and-coming freshmen guards Macey DeRosier and Rylee Stevens.
Mesabi East won Section 7AA and advanced to its first state tournament in 20 years last season and returns, arguably, the Northland's best backcourt in junior All-Area first-teamer Ava Hill (21.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.9 spg) and sophomore Hannah Hannuksela (15.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.2 spg). The Giants should be a section contender but need to continue to improve on defense and on the glass, where they graduated top rebounder Hope Howell.
Esko, a longtime Section 7AA contender, has five seniors back, including All-Area second-team selection Bridget Yellin, a 6-foot-1 center who averaged 15.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game. The Eskomos only lost one player to graduation and return four starters. Guard Sarah Wagemaker, the younger sister of former Eskomo Judy Wagemaker, is just a freshman but is skilled. Esko's path through 7AA is stacked, with Mesabi East, Duluth Marshall, Proctor, Crosby-Ironton and Pequot Lakes all vying for the top spot.
Duluth Marshall has a new coach in Chibuzo Osuchukwu. The Hilltoppers had three seniors quit before the season started but return plenty of talent in Gianna Kneepkens and Grace Kirk. Kneepkens, a sophomore guard, scored her 1,000th career point in the season opener, notching a triple-double with 45 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, and she's averaged 33 points per game through the first five games, all decisive wins. Kirk, an All-Area second-team selection last season, isn't far behind at 26 ppg and is the assist leader. Sophomore forward Hannah Brashaw is a leader and efficient player, while 5-10 freshman Dasia Starks, the younger sister of former Duluth East standout Dyami Starks, can play any position. The lone senior is center Cara Steede, who rebounds, plays defense and can finish around the rim.
Proctor has 13 letterwinners returning from its 7AA runner-up team, including juniors Sam Pogatchnik (16.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.9 spg), Liz Frase, Sam Parendo, Morgan Nylund and Katelyn Marunich. Key bench players include the Rails' only senior in Savannah Lyytinen, junior Taylor Bradley, sophomores Courtney Werner, Josie Maahs and Hailie Evans, and freshmen Payton Rodberg and Sophie Morin-Swanson.
Duluth Denfeld returns all its starters from last year and has a good group of underclassmen. Through two games, the Hunters are halfway toward equaling their two-win total from last year and are playing a schedule that should allow them to be more competitive. Coach Adair Ballavance is proud her players stuck it out and didn't quit after the program was on the verge of folding two seasons ago.
Two Harbors returns just one senior in forward Tori Bott, but coach Chris Lemke expects the younger girls to improve and make for a competitive team by season's end.
Moose Lake-Willow River returns freshman guard Natalie Mikrot and senior post player Charis Blacklock. The Rebels have a decent mixture of veterans and youth, and coach Padrick Judd is excited to see how the players grow and develop through hard work.
Mountain Iron-Buhl doesn't rebuild, it reloads in Section 7A. The Rangers have advanced to eight straight Class A state tournaments but could be challenged by the likes of Cromwell-Wright and Cherry. The Rangers' big loss from last season was Northeastern Minnesota's top scorer in forward Mary Burke (24.8 ppg), now at Minnesota-Crookston, but they return starters Macy Savela, Allie Negen, Madisen Overbye and Matti Bennett. In addition, Mia Ganyo and Miah Gellerstedt played good minutes last season, and MIB will work in players from a JV squad that went 25-1.
Cromwell-Wright expects to contend for a section title after returning nine players with varsity experience, including seven that saw starting time. Junior guards Shaily and Taya Hakamaki are three-year starters. The cousins are part of a strong core of Hakamakis. Natalee, the Cardinals' starting center, is Shaily's sister, while Amanda, another cousin, comes off the bench. Andrea Hakamaki graduated three years ago and Teana, an All-Area second-team selection last season, graduated last spring.
McGregor has a new coach in Amy Hawkinson and returns senior guard Shinaana Secody from a team that went 12-13 last season.
Ely returns junior guards Erika Mattson and Brielle Kallberg. The Timberwolves are working hard to develop their younger players to provide depth and hopefully be one of the better teams in 7A by playoff time.