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Prep girls basketball: Hibbing guard Abbey McDonald named All-Area Player of the Year

The Hibbing girls basketball team was down by about 10 points with less than three minutes remaining at Esko on Dec. 10 when everything changed. Hibbing came out with a full-court press, and Abbey McDonald and Eve Turner sparked the rally as the ...

Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.comSenior Abbey McDonald (44) led Hibbing to the girls basketball state tournament.
Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com Senior Abbey McDonald (44) led Hibbing to the girls basketball state tournament.
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The Hibbing girls basketball team was down by about 10 points with less than three minutes remaining at Esko on Dec. 10 when everything changed.

Hibbing came out with a full-court press, and Abbey McDonald and Eve Turner sparked the rally as the Bluejackets rallied to win 63-58.

"They had no business coming out of Esko with a win," said Joel McDonald, Abbey's father. "There are always games like that during the course of the season that kind of get you to believe, and that one was probably the one. They did a 180, and it was a turning point for their confidence. They rode that the rest of the season."

And into the Class AAA state basketball tournament. For her efforts, Abbey McDonald, a guard is the 2018-19 News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year. The two-year captain and five-year starter averaged 20.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game for the Bluejackets (28-4) while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 84.6 percent from the foul line. She leaves Hibbing as the school's all-time leading scorer.

"It was the best season I've ever been able to experience," Abbey said. "To make it to state with this group of girls like we did was just amazing."

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Joel McDonald coaches the Hibbing boys basketball team and drew some parallels between Hibbing's state run and his own experiences playing at Chisholm under his legendary father, Bob McDonald. Joel McDonald said those teams suffered growing pains before finally getting over the hump and going 29-1 and winning the Class A state championship in Joel's senior year in 1991 as he left the program as the state's all-time leading scorer.

For the Hibbing girls, this was the Bluejackets' first state appearance since 2007, and to do it, they had to get past nemesis Grand Rapids in the Section 7AAA championship at Duluth Denfeld.
With grandpa and other relatives watching from the stands, Abbey McDonald scored 23 points as Hibbing won 55-48.

"Making the state tournament has been one of the topics we've talked about for a long time," Joel McDonald said. "Abbey had big dreams about that, and to see it kind of all fall into place, it was really a special night."

Father and daughter have spent countless hours in the gym together not just working on her game but talking about the mental aspect of the sport and how to beat an opponent who might be taller or quicker than you.

Abbey McDonald didn't go out for softball this spring after suffering rotator cuff issues last year. She will continue lifting weights and working on her game as she prepares for the next level at Division II St. Cloud State, her father's alma mater.

One of the goals is to develop a quicker release. She and a couple of her high school teammates just arrived back Monday night from a spring-break trip to Bonita Springs, Fla. - one of those rare times where she goes more than a few days without basketball - but it was right back to it as soon as she returned. Dad buys her and her brother, freshman guard Ayden, a new pair of sneakers if they reach their shooting goals. Last offseason Abbey took 45,000 shots. This offseason she's going for 50,000.

"I have 11 years of coaching in me, and - by far - Abbey has spent more time in the gym than probably all the other girls put together," Hibbing girls basketball coach Dave LaCoe said. "She's always in there. There was a point during the season where I was kind of begging her to take a break because her legs were heavy. I just said, 'Take the week off. Don't come in in the morning. Get some sleep.' But that's where she wants to be. She wants to be in the gym, and she wants to improve her game every day."

LaCoe played high school basketball with Joel McDonald and said he sees the same court awareness and knowledge of the game in Abbey that he saw in her dad. That, along with her uncanny dribbling ability, were on full display in Hibbing's Class AAA state quarterfinal against DeLaSalle.

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"The direction that I've taken to bring these two up, Abbey and her brother both, is being able to handle the ball," Joel McDonald said. "Everybody can take a shooter out of a game. There are ways to do that, but if you handle the ball you become a very difficult player to stop."

Hibbing challenged the top-seeded and eventual state champion Islanders before ultimately falling 61-53 as McDonald had 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. DeLaSalle won because the Islanders got hot from outside and not because of the pressure defense they pride themselves on as McDonald and Co. handled their press.

"To play a team of that caliber, and to give them one of their toughest games, was great," Abbey McDonald said. "Our big girls, Lizzy (Tuomi), McKenzie (Maki) and Kourtney (Manning), were getting the boards, never stopping, and it was a fun game to be in. Like Coach LaCoe talked about all season, 'We can compete with anyone, doesn't matter who they are, what their record is or what see they are, if we go out and play."

McDonald is right-handed, but sometimes it's hard to tell she is ambidextrous. She has a left-handed runner with range out to about 15 feet, and seems more comfortable going to her left than to her right at times. Her dad said one time a grandparent came up to him after a game and asked which hand she favored because other than her 3-point shooting, it was hard to tell.

"Abbey has always had an ability to score with either hand like nobody I've seen play personally, and that just adds another component to what she's able to do, but she has definitely put in a lot of work," Joel McDonald said.

Bob McDonald wasn't able to make the state tournament games but Abbey's other grandparents, Gary and Debi Jensen, were able to make it, as were aunts and uncles. This had been a long time coming.

"It was just an amazing year," Abbey said. "This group of girls, I don't think we've ever been closer. Coming into this year, hanging out in basketball and obviously outside of basketball, too, it was really special to experience this with them and all the family members and fans who came down to watch us at state."

News Tribune girls basketball players of the year

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Year Player School

2019 Abbey McDonald Hibbing

2018 Heaven Hamling Grand Rapids

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

 

Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.comHibbing’s Abbey McDonald (44), here defending against Superior in a December game, was named the News Tribune's All-Area Player of the Year.
Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com Hibbing’s Abbey McDonald (44), here defending against Superior in a December game, was named the News Tribune's All-Area Player of the Year.

Related Topics: HIBBING
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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