by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Blake Ehley was a big part of something truly special this winter, as one of two senior leaders on the Zimmerman basketball team that earned their school’s first-ever state tournament trip.
When a team has a legitimate chance like the Thunder did, it helps if your seniors step up. Ehley certainly did. While averaging 12.5 points and 4.3 rebounds for the season, he heated in the five postseason games, scoring 15.9 points per game as the Thunder won Section 5AA.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior forward nailed 20 against Kimball, 23 against Cathedral and 17 in the state tournament loss to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
“Blake was one of the main reasons we were able to make a run to the state tournament,” said coach Ben Kvidt. “He really picked up his game down the stretch on both ends of the floor. He became our most reliable player and also our go-to guy because of the match up problems he created which is why he was our leading scorer throughout the playoffs.”
On a team with nine sophs and juniors in the top 11, the leaders were third-year starters Ehley and Brandon Giese, his teammate since fourth grade and the school’s career scoring leader.
The close first-round loss at state stung for a while but didn’t dampen the experience. “It was very successful,” said Ehley about the season. “We were the first Zimmerman team to go to state and we were 22-9. I have no complaints. It was exciting.”
In a small town where everyone already knew them, they had some local-hero status, too, this year.
“Yeah, we got a lot of congratulations, and when we lost at state, people would say ‘Don’t be mad, it was a great season.’ “
With his modest stature, Ehley would be strictly a guard on most teams, but the Thunder topped out at 6-foot-3 so he was primarily a forward the past two seasons. He started point guard in 10th grade.
Ehley, who averaged 7.3 points as a sophomore on an 8-19 team and 10.4 as a junior on a 15-13 team, totaled 862 points and 270 rebounds. His career field goal shooting percentage was an outstanding 51.3 percent.
He gets most of his points on pullup jumpers and daring, acrobatic drives to the hoop against taller players.
“Blake is not afraid to attack the basket,” said Kvidt. “He is a good leaper and our top rebounder. He does have a good outside shot, too, but he is always around the basket for us. He didn’t take many 3-pointers but he can shoot them.”
Ehley almost had a late start to his senior season as he broke his left wrist in two spots during a captain’s practice Oct. 28. With his diligent rehab efforts he was able to start the season Dec. 3 against Foley, scoring 15 points.
For career highlights, Elhey is able to list quite a few, mainly the last five games of his career: the four decisive victories in the sectional capped by the 70-57 win over Watertown-Mayer for the Section 5AA title at St. Cloud State, and the state tourney thriller at Williams Arena.
“And the win over Rocori, that was pretty exciting, too,” said Ehley about the 66-63 conquest of a longtime 3A power on Dec. 9 that showed the Thunder would be a force.
Another career highlight was his 24-point game against Big Lake as a junior, his personal best, made sweeter because his grandfather from North Dakota was able to make it down to watch that game. The grandfather passed away last summer.
Ehley has another potentially exciting season coming up. He was the starting center fielder on the baseball team that was section runner-up last year and most of the team returns including several basketball players.
“We’ll try do it again,” said Ehley.
THE EHLEY SCORECARD
Personal file – Age: 18 … Family: parents Ron and Lori; sister Bri, 22 … Sports: basketball, baseball … Academics: B average … College plans: probably Jamestown or Minnesota-Morris, basketball, business management
Favorite stuff – Class: JAG (jobs after graduation) … TV show: “Tosh.0” on Comedy Central … Movie: “Dumb and Dumber” … Food: burgers at Val’s in St. Cloud … Drink: chocolate milk … Athlete: Russell Westbrook … Team: Philadelphia Eagles … Kickback activity: golf … Place he’d like to visit: Hawaii