by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Maybe next year, or the year after. But not this year.
A young Elk River girls basketball team’s state tournament bid was scuttled by St. Michael-Albertville, a regular at the big show, 68-59 Friday night in the Section 8AAAA finals at St. John’s.
The Elks had a great start, leading 15-7, before their old bugaboo, turnovers, got in the way, and the No. 8 ranked Knights coolly took charge to earn their fifth state trip in eight years.
“They are fast and athletic, and they shoot the ball well, and they are great off the dribble. Give them credit,” said Elk coach Reed Caouette about STMA, which also beat the Elks 57-49 in December.
STMA coach Kent Hamre said the Elks had his team back on its heels for a while.
“We were forcing a lot of stuff and we were not very composed,” said Hamre. “It’s the first time we’ve been down like that. I don’t know where it came from, but we got our composure back. We kept battling and got a coupe of key baskets and got going.”
Along with a formidable opponent, Caouette pinned the loss on foul trouble and ball handling.
“When we had (guards) Anna Rollag and Jordyn Sohns in foul trouble in the first half, that really hurt our depth,” said Caouette. “That, and we were not taking care of the ball. We ended up with 32 turnovers. That has been our achilles heel all year.”
The Elks, with two seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen dividing the court time, finished 16-13.
STMA will take a 24-5 mark into state beginning Wednesday.
The Elks got most of their scoring down low led by Ali Scheid with 16 points and Molli Detloff with 14.
STMA’s posts did a good job limiting Scheid’s shots, boxing her out and keeping her away from the free throw line, but the 6-2 freshman made 8 of 11 shots while snagging seven rebounds and blocking five shots.
Detloff had her best game by far. The 5-8 junior forward laid in 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting, grabbed a game-eight rebounds and made four assists, three of them to Scheid.
“Molly played a heckuva rough, tough game,” said Caouette. “She pounded the boards, and we got her the ball at key moments and she was finishing.”
Elk season scoring leader Shelby Gracik had 12 points, mostly at the line (7-for-9). She never found her shot from the floor, going 2-for-12, including 1-for-8 on three’s, and struggled with the ball, making 11 of the team’s 32 turnovers. Rollag added nine points.
A crusher for the Elks was early foul trouble by Sohns. The senior three-year starter and captain played just 14 minutes and made just one basket, a three-pointer. She fouled out with 9:22 left and her team down 47-44.
“It’s hard for us to play without Jordyn for extended periods of time,” said Caouette, adding that he pondered sitting her for a few more minutes in the second half but “decided I had to roll the dice and go with her.”
Rollag also sat for several minutes int the first half, putting more ball-handling pressure on Gracik, who’s much more suited to shooting guard than point.
STMA had its usual scoring balance with junior forward Erin Autio scoring 13 points, freshman guard Sydney Tracy 12, senior guard Natalie Van Wyhe 12, soph guard Bobbi Brendefur nine and senior guard Makenzie Bebo eight. Van Wyhe was the main thorn for the Elks defensively as she made eight of the team’s 19 steals.
The Knights had six three-pointers to the Elks’ two, and struggled at the line but made 22 of 35 to the Elks’ 13-for-21 as the Elks had 24 fouls.
“That’s actually pretty good against them,” said Caouette about the six three’s, “because they are a team that can hit 10 or 11 in a game.”
The Elks had a 37-27 rebound edge, canceled out by the 32 turnovers. The Knights had 19. Most of the Elk turnovers came in the half-court offense against a high two-three zone that pressured the wings and point.
“We worked on exactly that in practice during the week,” said Caouette. “We have seen it before … I thought we had improved against it, but St. Michael does that really well, and we just turned it over too many times.”
The Elks led 15-7 sparked by a couple of steals, some fast breaking, three inside buckets by Scheid, layups by Rollag and Jayme Langbehn, and 3-for-4 free throw shooting. Things looked good.
Then the Elks completely unraveled for two and a half minutes, suffering nine straight turnovers — bad passes, traveling, kicking the ball, two steals by Van Whye — while taking zero shots. Then they missed two layups as the Knights edged into the lead.
“Our two-three high (zone) works sometimes and doesn’t work sometimes,” said Hamre, “but it’s gotten to the point where we live and die by it, and tonight it worked pretty well. Reed did a nice job making adjustments but I think the constant pressure wore them down.”
The Elks had 17 turnovers and six missed layups in the first half but trailed by just 29-28 as they shot well otherwise (8-for-19 first half and 22-for-45 in the game) and STMA missed a few bunnies, too.
Detloff gave the Elks a 30-29 lead as she stole a pass and scored six seconds into the second half, and added two low-post buckets off feeds from Scheid to keep her team in front 36-34.
“Me and Abi were going for the high-low,” said Detloff, “and it was more open this game. We’ve been doing that all year.”
That would be the Elks last lead. They stuck within a couple baskets most of the half but their chances dimmed considerably when Sohns fouled out and Brendefur made two free shots for a 49-44 Knight edge.
Three-pointers by Autio and Brendefur helped the Knights open a 57-50 lead.
“We didn’t stay up on them close enough,” said Detloff, “and they stuck a couple three’s on us.”
The Elks pulled within 62-57 when Gracik hit her lone 3-pointer of the night but Gracik threw awry passes on the next two possessions as the Knights pulled away.
(See sidebar about Elks future).
St. Michael-Albertville 68, Elk River 59
Elk River ……… 28 31 — 59
STMA …………. 29 39 — 68
Elk River — Jordyn Sohns 3 (2 ast), Anna Rollag 9 (2 ast), Shelby Gracik 12 (4 stl, 3 ast), Molli Detloff 14 (8 reb, 4 ast), Abi Scheid 16 (7 reb, 5 blk, 2 ast), Erin Ness 0, Holly Skalsky 0, Jayme Langbehn 6 (6 reb 2 ast, 3 stl), Brittani Cornelius 0 …. Team: 22-45 FG, 2-11 3FG, 13-21 FT, 37 rebounds, 24 fouls, 32 turnovers, 11 steals
STMA — Jordan Hansen 2, Natalie Van Wyhe 12 (8 stl, 4 ast), Makenzie Bebo 8, Erin Autio 13, Nicole Westrum 6, Bobbi Brendefur 9, Karissa Pazen 5, Sydney Tracy 12 (6 reb) …. Team: 20-53 FG, 6-17 3FG, 22-35 FT, 27 rebounds, 13 fouls, 19 turnovers, 19 steals