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Southwest Minnesota Christian celebrated.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Powerhouses recharge Small-school powers redux

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • March 20, 2012 - 11:30 PM

Not so long ago, Southwest Minnesota Christian and Litchfield simultaneously occupied the peak of small-school basketball in Minnesota.

Southwest Christian, a private school located in Edgerton, became the first school in state history to win four consecutive championships when it won Class 1A titles from 1999 through 2002.

Litchfield, with a lineup that featured newly acquired Vikings tight end John Carlson, won Class 2A championships in 2000, 2002 and 2003.

Since then?

Neither team had been back to the state tournament since its final state championship.

Last week's sections ended the drought for both.

Southwest Christian came out of basketball-mad Section 3, defeating Dawson-Boyd 73-55 in the final.

Coach Jamie Pap, a senior on the 1999 team, said his players have bombarded him with questions about the past champions, wondering where they rank in comparison.

"The biggest thing I've been hearing is them asking if we are as good as those teams were," said Pap, who is in his seventh season at the helm. "It's hard to say. Basketball has changed a lot in 13 years."

One change Pap has made since his days as a player has been getting the Eagles to play a more up-tempo style.

"We're going to push it," Pap said. "I told this team that I want three turnovers a game from chucking the ball into the stands because we're pushing the ball up. We ain't gonna wait."

While the last championship was a decade ago, those titles do have a positive residual effect, Pap added.

"It helps our guys know that it's possible for a little school like Southwest Christian to win a state tournament," he said. "They know they've got a chance."

Since winning its last title, Litchfield, which downed Long Prairie-Grey Eagle 74-57 in the Class 2A, Section 6 final, has seen its enrollment dwindle each year. In 2003, the school had 557 students; this year it's 481.

"We were a much bigger school then," said coach John Carlson, who is in his 24th year coaching the Dragons. "In 1998, we had a graduating class of 190. Now we're graduating 130."

Fewer students does not mean less opportunity, said Carlson, who coached his son of the same name a decade ago. It just means fewer athletes to go around.

"We are one of the smallest schools to offer four winter sports," he said. "We also have hockey, wrestling and swimming. We try to promote getting involved wherever interests lie."

Carlson cited two reasons for the Dragons' success this season: a rugged Wright County Conference schedule and talent throughout the roster.

"No doubt playing in the Wright County helped us this year," Carlson said. "It made our kids tougher, physically and mentally, playing against bigger schools night in and night out."

Carlson offered one bit of praise that even the championship teams couldn't boast.

"This is probably the best group effort of any team I've been a part of," he said. "We've have six different kids lead us in scoring this year. It takes the pressure off of each kid, knowing they don't have to be the man."

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