The situation was overflowing with potential. It just needed the right person to tap it. And so far, Bryce Tesdahl appears to be that person.
Tesdahl was hired two years ago to take the helm at East Ridge, a program brimming with talent. From the line of coaches with ties to the legendary Bob McDonald of Chisholm, who is his grandfather, Tesdahl has basketball in his blood. At East Ridge, Tesdahl saw a program with something special bubbling.
“I knew the talent and the facilities were here, but you don’t really know until you get there,” said Tesdahl. “Once I got here, I could see we had the opportunity to accomplish great things.”
The talented Raptors have that chance. They will be making their first state tournament appearance Wednesday when they play Eastview in the Class 4A boys’ basketball state tournament quarterfinals Wednesday at Target Center. East Ridge defeated Eastview 74-67 earlier in the season.
“I thought year two, we’d take a big step and we did,” Tesdahl said.
Despite his age of 27, or possibly because of it, Tesdahl dove headlong into the world of East Ridge basketball. Summer workouts became an obligation, as did lifting weights. Players began watching film. Scouting reports were developed regularly.
“Before coach Tesdahl, we didn’t do a lot to prepare,” said 6-6 senior forward Courtney Brown, a Wisconsin-Milwaukee signee who is one of those highly talented players. “The way he goes about preparing for games, it feels like college.”
Ben Carlson, a broad-shouldered 6-9 junior forward with nearly 20 Division I offers, said seeing the commitment of his coach rubs off on the players.
“It shows he cares about building the culture and the brand of East Ridge basketball,” Carlson said. “It’s about being committed every day. No one minds it, because we know it’s going to get us where we want to go.”
Watch him conduct practice and Tesdahl’s passion for the game becomes obvious. Being so close in age to his players, he has a knack for communicating at a level to which they can relate.
At a recent practice, Tesdahl conducted an interview with a member of the media, talking in coachspeak, using terms like culture and growth, opportunity and process. He then called his team together to begin practice and his voice took more urgency. He set stages, laid out goals, challenged and cajoled and motivated his charges.
“The atmosphere is NOT too big for us,” he yelled. “It’s still a 10-foot rim. We’re going to enjoy this opportunity, take advantage of it and win this thing!”
It’s all part of Tesdahl’s method. What better way to get full commitment from a group of players than to show it to them?
“It all starts with the boss,” he said. “You can’t win games without buying into the process. And these kids have done a good job buying in.”
“He’s young, like us,” Carlson said. “He gets everything we talk about.”
High-level core players such as Carlson, Brown and his younger brother Kendall, all avaerage between 15.7 and 17.3 points per game. Couple their leadership with the contributions of point guard Zach Zebrowski, quarterback on the East Ridge football team, and sharpshooter Patrick Lynott, and the Raptors are far from your typical first-time tournament entrant.
They’ve lost just twice, to Prior Lake and Eden Prairie early in the season, and have won 24 consecutitive games. With this year’s tournament field having no clear favorite, the Raptors walking away with the state championship trophy is a real possibility. Tesdahl believes as much and told his team so as he concluded his fiery pre-practice speech.
“All I need you to do,” he said, “is to play your [butt] off.”