March 16, 2023 at 1:50 p.m.

Dominant defense sends Huskies to state semifinals

By Evan Michealson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Albany girls basketball wins turnover battle in win over Perham

Gazing around the media room at the Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis following the 2023 Minnesota State High School League Class AA Girls Basketball Tournament quarterfinals, Kylan Gerads excitedly exclaimed, “We’re going to be on TV!”

This excitement came off the back of a lockdown defensive performance for Gerads and the Albany Huskies, who held the Perham Yellowjackets to six 3-pointers on 22 attempts while forcing 18 turnovers in a stalwart 51-38 win March 15. 

“We knew we had to play really good defense, and that’s something we’ve been doing all year,” Gerads said. “With defense, offense will come.”

Albany win the opening tipoff and immediately translated it into a bucket, with point guard Savanna Pelzer finding Gerads for an easy lay-in. Then, the Huskie defense forced a turnover before guard Tatum Findley hit Gerads in stride for another score. Fast pace was a major advantage for Albany, who scored 12 fastbreak points in the first half alone, often a product of swiping the basketball away after applying pressure.

“We pressured the ball well and knew we had to get back on defense,” Findley said. “I think we did well with that.”

These energetic scoring sequences gave Albany the lead, one it never relinquished throughout the game. The Huskies, seeded No. 3 in Class AA, led for 99% of the game, controlling the tempo of the contest while forcing Perham into desperation mode fairly early.

Albany extended its advantage with athletic plays down low, with all of two of its 19 field goals coming from 2-point territory. Gerads and fellow junior forward Alyssa Sand remained comfortable even against help defense, combining for 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and four steals.

“We wanted to try and get it inside, but we knew they were going to double-team or pack in the lines, so we were looking for backdoor cuts, trying to get it into the post just to get other opportunities,” Sand said. 

Even with its length, Albany initially struggled to separate from the pesky Yellowjackets off the back of offensive rebounds. Perham pulled down nine offensive boards in the first half, putting up 11 second-chance points. 

“Our coach every game, he says, ‘Rebounding is what will win these games,’ and it’s 100% true,” Gerads said. “In the beginning, we weren’t getting the rebounds, so we had to really focus on that if we wanted to win.”

Gigantic plays from several Huskies eventually helped the higher seed move on. Savanna Pelzer knocked down a close-range shot in the final seconds of the first half before earning steals on back-to back second-half possessions, Callie Holthaus and Eva Schwenzfeier hit the team’s lone 3-pointers and center Natalie Blonigen came off the bench to record two points, two rebounds and a steal.

“Basketball is a team sport; it's not one single person,” Gerads said. “No matter what, everybody contributes to the team, so it's really important for all of us.”

Albany’s single-digit lead eventually blossomed to a game-high 18 points behind a 19-9 run to begin the second half, and while the Yellowjackets hit several 3-pointers in catch-up mode, it was not enough to deny the Huskies from another Class AA semifinals appearance. 

“It’s really exciting,” Sand said. “This is our third year in a row taking it to the Final Four, so that’s just our goal right away, to get to the Final Four and keep going.”

The Huskies will take on Goodhue at 8 p.m. Friday, March 17, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. 

PER      18        20        38

ALB      26        25        51

Sand 14 points (7R, 4A, 3B), Gerads 14 (5R, 4S), Findley 11, Pelzer 4 (4R), Holthaus 3, Schwenzfeier 3, Blonigen 2 and Samantha VanHeel 0 (3R). 


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