Orono center Meghan Mandel missed the first part of the season while recovering from a severe case of influenza.
“I lost 25 pounds,” said the 6-4 junior.
After working her way slowly back into the lineup, Mandel said she is now completely healthy. And as she has become stronger, her game has improved as well. She was a force inside for the Spartans on Tuesday, scoring 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor, grabbing 11 rebounds and making four steals. She made the highlight play of the game when she raced back on a Thief River Falls fast break, blocked the shot and — as she was falling out of bounds — grabbed the loose ball out of the air and passed it to a teammate.
“She’s so important to what we do,” said guard Kiera Nelson. “It’s incredible how strong she makes us physically.”
Mandel even admitted that she and her teammates enjoy the rigors of Orono’s aggressive defensive style.
“We like it,” Mandel said. “We’re a competitive team and it energizes us.”
The Hopkins dynasty ended with a thud last season as the Royals failed to reach the state tournament after winning three previous titles.
They are back in top form, carrying the No. 1 seed and just one loss, to defending champion Eastview, into the tournament.
“It feels really good to be back,” junior guard Ashley Bates said. “Last year definitely motivated us.”
Said coach Brian Cosgriff: “The girls have kind of used that for motivation all year. Our goal every year is to try and get here. Now that we’re here, we want to keep playing. Our goal every year is to play from opening day until the last day.”
DAVID LA VAQUE
The MSHSL started seeding the boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments in 2007, reasoning that seeding ensures more competitive games and a deserving champion. The downside of that seeding, however, has been evident in the results of this season’s eight boys’ and girls’ Class 4A quarterfinal games.
The results of quarterfinals have been largely lopsided. Three of the four Class 4A girls’ games Tuesday were decided by double-digit margins. In fact, the average score of the eight Class 4A quarterfinal games played over the last week was 68-49.
The state boys’ basketball coaches association is planning to make another proposal to the MSHSL later this year for a 64-team Class 4A tournament with every team being seeded, much like the NCAA Division I tournaments. These quarterfinals results appear to work in the coaches favor.
The Barn beckons
Tuesday’s victory sends Eastview to Thursday evening’s semifinal game at Williams Arena, and Lightning coach Melissa Guebert couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I’m excited for the girls, that they get to play at Williams Arena,” she said. “It’s such a cool place and atmosphere. It’s much more fun and exciting. There’s no better feeling.”
A more intimate setting, she said, fuels the intensity.
“The crowd is right there with you, for better or worse,” Guebert said. “You just feel it the whole time. I don’t think you have to create your own energy. Sometimes [at Target Center] you have to create your own energy and that can be a concern. But I thought we did a good job of doing that.”
DAVID LA VAQUE