Unheralded Esko flies under the radar to Minneapolis
Esko girls basketball coach Scott Antonutti won't be offended if his team is overlooked entering the Minnesota Class AA girls basketball tournament. In fact, the coach relishes the thought of his team being taken lightly. "I hope so, and I think ...
Esko girls basketball coach Scott Antonutti won’t be offended if his team is overlooked entering the Minnesota Class AA girls basketball tournament.
In fact, the coach relishes the thought of his team being taken lightly.
“I hope so, and I think that’s going to be the case,” Antonutti said Tuesday.
If people dwell solely on numbers, Antonutti is probably right. After all, not a single Eskomo averages double digits in scoring. The roster is filled with players in grades nine, 10 and 11, including a pair of freshmen that lead Esko in scoring at about nine points per game. The Eskomos (25-5) were unranked, and are unseeded heading into tonight’s quarterfinal against No. 3 New London-Spicer (24-5), which averages 70 points per night compared to Esko’s 54.7.
What’s more, many thought this would be a rebuilding year after Savanna Trapp, Marisa Shady and Claudia Turner graduated from last year’s squad, which fell a game shy of the state tournament.
Esko, though, heads south today with precocious youngsters, relentless speed and enviable depth.
“Every team is built a different way, and ours is just one of the unique ones,” said freshman Ava Gonsorowski, who averages a team-high 9.8 points per game.
Trapp and Turner scored in bunches a year ago, while the 6-foot-9 Trapp also set the state’s career record for blocked shots - which has since been broken - while being pursued heavily by big-ticket college programs. She ultimately landed at UCLA.
There’s no such superstar this time around for Antonutti, just a bunch of really good players who complement each other well.
“We don’t have a girl that’s averaging 20 points, we don’t have a girl that is getting 10 rebounds a game and we don’t have a girl that’s getting eight assists a game,” said Antonutti, who won three state titles as an assistant coach at Fosston from 1999-2005. “Those are all things that we’ve had in the past, and we don’t have that this year. We have to play defense and get after people, and we play a number of kids that are willing to do that and get on the floor and kind of get nasty.”
Defense is the focal point for the speedy Section 7AA champs, who allow just 39.6 points per game. It’s not always pretty - see Esko’s 38-32 slugfest victory over Barnum in the section final for evidence - but it is effective for a club that’s won seven straight heading into today’s 8 p.m. opener at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
Asked if she was surprised that this year’s team advanced to state and last year’s club didn’t, junior Ashley Bergerson highlighted one distinct advantage the current crop of Eskomos benefited from.
“This year we didn’t have as much competition as last year since Braham isn’t in our section,” Bergerson said.
While Esko spreads the love on offense, its opponent tonight is vastly different. The Wildcats are built around prolific scorer Taylor Thunstedt, who is averaging 26.7 points per game. The senior, who has scored more than 2,700 points in her career, has committed to Division I North Dakota State.
How will the unheralded Eskomos match up with a team that ended the regular season ranked fifth in the state and one that features a high-powered weapon like Thunstedt?
Just as they’ve done all season, Antonutti expects them to find a way.
“Obviously, having never seen her in person, we don’t know exactly what to expect, but she’s going to put her shorts on just like everybody else,” the coach said.