Hastings girls’ basketball coach Padrick Judd doesn’t feel that one victory can define a season, particularly one that he hopes will continue for quite a while longer.
Still, the Raiders’ 62-60 victory over Hill-Murray on Tuesday doesn’t need a “defining moment” label to serve as a perfect example of what has made the 2014-15 season so remarkable for the team.
Playing in front of a boisterous home crowd, Hastings edged its Metro East Conference rival to earn its ninth consecutive victory. All have come since the Raiders’ 52-47 loss to the Pioneers on Jan. 20.
Hastings now has 20 victories on the year (against five losses). The team is 12-2 in conference play, tying Hill-Murray for the top spot in the league. With its final regular season game on Friday against Park of Cottage Grove, the Raiders are looking at a top-four seed in an extremely deep Class 4A, Section 1 tournament.
It has been quite a turnaround from the 2013-14 season, in which the Raiders finished 2-24.
“We’re doing something that hasn’t happened in a long time in this program, and with every game and every win, the girls have built more confidence,” Judd said. “It’s fun to just hear the girls talking in such a positive manner.”
This is Judd’s first season as Hastings coach. He served as the B-squad coach a year ago, and despite the team’s rough play last season, he was optimistic heading into the year.
Just not quite optimistic to predict a 20-victory season.
“My original thought was that if we could get 10 wins, that would be a nice start to building the program to what we want to be,” he said.
Then as summer ball wrapped up and the team started gearing up for the season, Judd started to think bigger.
The team had a strong group of leaders — captains Hanna Norman, Gretta Utecht and Sammy Schorzman — and an influx of young talent. Judd said he felt freshman post Krystal Carlson had the chance to be dominant, and that seventh-grader Mallory Brake seemed ready to jump into a big role.
After a season-opening loss to Cretin-Derham Hall, Hastings rattled off seven consecutive victories. The team actually looked like a bona-fide contender for a conference title.
The Raiders have ridden their stars much of this year.
Norman, a senior, has had eight games with 20 or more points, including a season-high 29 against St. Paul Como Park on Feb. 9. Carlson has averaged a double-double this season, and has had double-digit rebounding totals in all but three games.
Judd said the biggest key has been players’ ability to understand, and play within, their individual roles for the betterment of the team.
To have the type of turnaround they’ve had, Judd said, it’s had to be a collective effort.
The last time Hastings won 20 games was during the 1995-96 season, the same year the Raiders last won a conference title or reached the state tournament.
They are 2-for-3, so far.
While Tuesday’s victory was huge for a program that has seemed to skip its rebuilding phase, Judd said the entire season has helped define the Hastings team.
“We hope this isn’t all a dream and that we wake up and reality is that this isn’t the season we had,” he said jokingly. “Going into this season, we couldn’t have imagined that we’d be playing for a conference championship. … I’m the happiest coach in Minnesota.”