It’s not easy building a consistent power. Annandale finally has reached that point.
The Cardinals will be making their fifth consecutive appearance in the Class 2A state tournament when they take to the Target Center floor Wednesday night. The program only made one previous trip (2004) since the school opened in 1888.
“The target on our back in Section 5 has become a major one,” Annandale coach Skip Dolan said. “The hardest thing to do is to take a championship away from a champion.”
Dolan’s squad proved that again this year. It defeated higher-seeded Watertown-Mayer 82-76 in triple overtime in the semifinals after trailing 32-15 late in the first half.
“Sometimes things are magical, unbelievable,” Dolan said. The Cardinals (26-4) then polished off Breck 74-60 to earn yet another state tournament berth.
Those two victories exemplify what Dolan’s squad is about this year. It can turn to 6-6 senior forward Jarod Wilken to take over a game like against Watertown-Mayer (43 points) or use a balanced attack like it did against Breck.
“Jarod can take over a game if he has to, but we have so many more scoring options this year,” Dolan said. “We are definitely more balanced.”
Wilken leads the Dragons, averaging 18.8 points per game. He is surrounded by a group of juniors: 6-3 forward Nick Bieniek, 6-4 forward AJ Hinz, 6-6 forward Trent Peper and 6-2 point guard Trenton Peterson round out the starting five while 6-1 Leo Healy is the sixth man.
Wilken and Hinz, both three-year starters, were the only returning players from last year’s state tournament team. Adding the size of the other four, Dolan quickly realized the potential of the Cardinals. Bieniek, Hinz and Peterson also average double figures.
“We have a lot more length now,” Dolan said. “We can cover more ground, and use our length for more wrinkles on defense.”
The Cardinals have only lost in a their quarterfinal game once in the previous four years. They were state runners-up in 2014, third in 2013 and fourth a year ago.
Dolan says he realizes there is one big obstacle — top-ranked and No. 1 seed Minnehaha Academy — in the way of his group taking the next step of winning a state title.
“There is definitely one team in Class 2A that is far superior in Minnehaha Academy,” Dolan said.
A first-round victory by both would set up a semifinal matchup on Friday evening.
“We would like the opportunity to see where we stack up with them,” Dolan said. “It’s going to take a special night to beat them.”