March 21, 2023 at 4:53 p.m.

Huskies leave it all on court versus Lions

Huskies leave it all on court versus Lions
Huskies leave it all on court versus Lions

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

Providence Academy tops Albany in Class AA championship

The Providence Academy Lions, led by freshman 2,000-point scoring phenom Maddyn Greenway, had established themselves as not only Class AA’s top title threat but one of the state’s strongest overall programs.

Wins over second-ranked Class AAAA program Hopkins, a pair of victories over the always-dangerous Minnehaha Academy and a triumph over Class AAA semifinalist Becker were among many elite performances that seemed to make the Lions a lock for its second straight championship.

However, the Albany Huskies, winners of 30 games during the 2022-23 season and led by a lineup of experienced playoff performers, were not intimidated by Providence Academy’s speed and skill, entering the halftime break of the March 18 Minnesota State High School League Class AA Girls Basketball State Tournament championship game with a 33-32 lead.

“We were pretty open and honest about, you’re not going to play Providence and not have a run of seven or eight at some point,” said Aaron Boyum, head coach. “That’s just going to happen. It’s understanding that at the beginning and being able to persevere and fight through that and reset and refocus when that happens.”

Unfortunately for the Huskies, it could not quell a series of devastating Lion runs, as Providence Academy used a 15-2 run to begin the second half to leave the Williams Arena floor in Minneapolis champions, 74-60.

“Providence is so explosive in their transition game and their ability to get up and down,” Boyum said. “We just had some stretches where we saw their transition game come to life.”

Greenway got settled into the game immediately, knocking down the first two shots for the Lions, but up to the task of matching her level of play was Albany junior forward Alyssa Sand, who, in the first five minutes of the contest, had accumulated six points and five rebounds, many on the offensive end for second-chance points.

The end result of Sand’s incredible effort was a performance for the Albany history books, as the Class AA All-State and All-Tournament selection piled up a team-leading 29 points, a whopping 21 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.

“I was working hard and going for everything, no matter where I was,” Sand said. “I’m pretty tall and have long arms, so it’s a matter of using my arms.”

Providence Academy led for much of the first half, including a 15-9 advantage, but Albany’s defense ensured the third-seeded Huskies stayed in the game. The Lions shot just 2 of 12 from 3-point range and 34.4% as a team.

Albany tied the game at 24 on a 3-pointer from junior guard Tatum Findley, who proceeded to connect on another three and a jumper, helping the Huskies close out the half on top.

“It felt pretty good,” Findley said. “I could tell Maddyn was guarding me most of the game and she was going double, so I was just confident.”

With a loud crowd backing them and with the Lions on the back foot, the Huskies returned from the intermission with momentum on its side. That was quickly erased when Providence Academy scored eight points in 2 minutes, 28 seconds, reclaiming the lead for good.

Greenway’s energy and fast pace eventually swung the game in the Lions’ favor. While the Huskies held her in check from an efficiency standpoint at 10-for-26 shooting, the dominant guard still scored 31 points, several coming off of her five steals.

“She’s special,” Boyum said. “She goes and gets after things, not only her pressure offensively, defensively too, the way she gets after the ball and forces you to take care of the basketball.”

The Huskies applied late pressure to the Lions, turning a 19-point deficit into a 12-point one. However, it was unable to convert this into a miraculous rally, as Providence Academy forwards Grace Counts and Hope Counts grabbed a combined 15 offensive rebounds, keeping the ball out of Albany’s hands.

“It was pretty intense, especially in the second half, fighting for rebounds and working hard,” Sand said.

Findley ended the entertaining matchup with 11 points, forward Kylan Gerads added nine points and seven rebounds, and Callie Holthaus tallied seven points off the bench in the hard-fought, memorable effort.

“All week, the girls played hard and played together,” Boyum said. “We’re still very proud of them.”

The Huskies end the campaign with a stellar 30-2 record, including an undefeated record in Granite Ridge Conference play and an unblemished 16-0 mark in an always-challenging Section 6AA.

ALB 33   27-60

PA 32   42-74

Albany: Sand 29 points (21R, 3A, 3S), Findley 11, Gerads 9 (7R), Holthaus 7, Savanna Pelzer 2 (4R) and Natalie Blonigen 2.

Albany 48, Goodhue 45

Throughout the entirety of its state semifinals matchup March 17, the Huskies were met with resistance.

The Goodhue Wildcats led for two-thirds of the physical, defensive showdown, forcing Huskie turnovers and keeping Albany’s dominant inside game and precise dribble drives from taking over the game.

However, when it counted, the Huskies’ high-arcing 3-point shots fell, with Findley knocking down the game-winning shot with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining in a 48-45 win that sent the Huskies to its second state finals trip in three seasons.

“Never give up,” Gerads said. “It seems cliché, but there was a lot of time on the clock, so we just kept going and playing as hard as we could because we wanted to win.”

Findley’s ice-cold make was almost never possible, as No. 3 seed Albany remained multiple scores behind the second-seeded Wildcats throughout much of the second half. Kendyl Lodermeier’s 19-point, six rebound performance kept Goodhue in the driver’s seat, while Jada Scheele’s three-point play gave the vigilant, well-coached Wildcats a 38-33 lead with 7:13 to play.

In a game with so little margin for error and the large-spanning audience watching, Albany rallied and made the most of its late possessions. Pelzer slid her 5-foot, 4-inch frame into the crowded paint and laid a gutsy layup home to tie the game before Eva Schwenzfeier, off the bench, drained the biggest shot of her life to that point, a big-time 3-pointer to provide Albany its first lead in 14 minutes.

“It was girls really honing in and focusing in on what they had to do individually and collectively to what they could accomplish as a team,” Boyum said.

Goodhue tied the game at 45 off yet another score from Lodermeier, setting the stage for Findley’s clutch shot, which was set up by a dribble drive from Gerads, who felt Goodhue’s interior pressure and kicked it out to her longtime Albany teammate for the look. Despite the high-pressure situation, the Huskies’ leading scorer for the contest swished it through the hoop.

“I was out there, and I knew I had to hit it,” Findley said. “I was confident in my shot.”

ALB 21 27-48

GOOD 18 27-45

Albany: Findley 13 (3R, 4A), Gerads 12 (4R), Pelzer 7 (5R, 3A), Sand 6 (6R, 4B), Samantha VanHeel 3 (4R), Schwenzfeier 3, Holthaus 2 and Blonigen 2.

Albany 51, Perham 38

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, 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.”

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 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 but two of its 19 field goals coming from 2-point territory. Gerads and fellow junior forward Sand remained comfortable, 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.

Gigantic plays from several Huskies eventually helped the higher seed move on. 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, Holthaus and Schwenzfeier hit the team’s lone 3-pointers and 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.

PER 18 20-38

ALB 26 25-5\

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


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