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Girls basketball: DeLaSalle too much for Hermantown in Class AAA state quarterfinals

031220.S.DNT.gbb.state.Hermantown c07.JPG
From left: DeLaSalle's Nurjei Weems (22), Hermantown's Elly Schmitz (31) and Bryton Kukowski (25), and DeLaSalle's Sydney Runsewe (15) battle for a rebound in the second half of the Class AAA girls state basketball quarterfinal Wednesday, March 11, 2020, Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minnesota Duluth point guard Tanysha Scott is in her fifth season as girls basketball coach at her alma mater, DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, and the past four years she has carried on a tradition adopted from one of the Islanders boys coaches.

Every practice the Islanders run a mile.

“Nineteen laps,” senior forward Nurjei “N.J.” Weems said, knowing the distance by this time all too well.

DeLaSalle brings a track mentality to basketball, as Hermantown found out the hard way Wednesday morning in the Class AAA state quarterfinals.

Weems and sophomore guard Sydney Runsewe led a balanced offense with 20 points apiece as the defending state champion Islanders pulled away for an 85-52 victory with a big second half at Maturi Pavilion.

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Photos: Hermantown vs. DeLaSalle Class AAA quarterfinal Photos by Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Photos: Hermantown vs. DeLaSalle Class AAA quarterfinal Photos by Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

DeLaSalle, which got six 3-pointers from Runsewe, finished 13-for-23 from 3-point range compared to 1-for-7 for the Hawks.

“They’re the type of team that scores in bunches,” Hermantown coach Beth Clark said. “We missed a shot that was halfway down, and then they scored on the other end. The lead went from eight points to 20 points in two or three minutes. That’s how they play, and good for them. They’ve got shooters, they’ve got kids who can run, defensively they’re tough and they’ve got some size. They’re good. They deserve to be where they are.”

Top-seeded DeLaSalle (25-4) also got 19 points, eight assists and three steals from sophomore guard Kiani Lockett. The Islanders advance to play fourth-seeded Simley (28-2) at noon Thursday in the Class AAA semifinals. Hermantown (26-4) plays fifth-seeded Holy Angels (22-7) in the Class AAA consolation semifinals 2 p.m. Thursday at Concordia-St. Paul.

Junior forward Elly Schmitz and senior guard Ava Asgaard had 16 and 15 points, respectively, and senior forward Bryton Kukowski added seven points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hawks.

“They were just hitting all their shots,” Schmitz said.

Hermantown, which handled the press well early on, never led but used a 10-0 run to cut DeLaSalle’s lead to 29-27 with 2:43 left in the first half. It was all Islanders after that as they led 38-29 at the break and 54-31 just four minutes into the second half; a 25-4 run spanning the two halves.

“When we got into the locker room, coach made some adjustments for the second half,” said the 6-foot Weems, who added 11 rebounds. “We just had to talk more on defense, because the more we talk, the easier it is for us to move around and know who we have. And once we start talking on defense, that transitions into offense and getting open shots.”

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Hibbing, last year’s Section 7AAA state qualifier, led DeLaSalle 30-28 in the 2019 Class AAA quarterfinals only to fall 61-53.

This year, it wasn’t as close as the Islanders outscored Hermantown 47-23 in the second half. The Hawks took advantage of fouls, going 25-for-31 from the free-throw line.

“I was a little concerned in the first half, but I’ve always felt like we’re more of a second-half team,” Weems said.

Asgaard and Brita Birkeland both fouled out as the Hawks had trouble containing the run-and-gun Islanders.

“We were a little tired. We tried to keep our energy up, but they’re good,” Asgaard said. “They kept pushing the ball and pressuring us and making all their shots. It’s tough to beat their press and it’s tiring. So you’re tired on offense and you’re tired on defense, too. It’s tough to keep up that pace. But this is still an amazing experience. Having one more week of basketball, one more week with my teammates, is exciting.”

Asgaard is one of seven seniors for the Hawks, who will return the likes of Schmitz and starter Maiah Christianson next season.

Hermantown is playing in its fourth state tournament and first since 2006.

“We competed,” Clark said. “I’m proud of these kids. They competed, they played hard, they believed that they could win. I’m happy they get to experience this, but hats off to DeLaSalle. They’re the best team in the state.”

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Hermantown 29-23—52
DeLaSalle 38-47—85

Hermantown — Ava Asgaard 15, Brita Birkeland 6, Maiah Christianson 8, Bryton Kukowski 7, Elly Schmitz 16. Totals 13 25-31 52.

3-point goals — Christianson.

DeLaSalle — Savannah White 9, Kennedy Klick 5, Kiani Lockett 19, Sydney Runsewe 20, Nurjei Weems 20, I’Tianna Salaam 9, Isabella Thomas 2, Lucy Suek 1. Totals 27 18-29 85.

3-point goals — White 2, Klick, Lockett 2, Runsewe 6, Salaam 2.


Related Topics: BASKETBALLHERMANTOWN
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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