Knowing they had a chance to do something special this season, a number of Albany basketball players decided to skip football last fall to focus their energies on hoops.
As it turned out, the football team's loss was the school's gain. The Huskies won the first boys basketball state championship in school history Saturday, defeating perennial power Minnehaha Academy 72-65 in the Class 2A final at Target Center.
They did so largely with balance. Four players scored in double figures for Albany (32-1), led by senior Tysen Gerads with 19 points. Three of them were players who eschewed football.
"Me and Sam [Hondl] and Ezekiel [Austin], we all quit football this year to start working on basketball earlier," Gerads said. "It was our goal to win state. I know probably not anyone else thought it, but our whole team thought we could make it this far."
One key member of the team decided to stick things out on the gridiron, however, and he's glad he did.
Senior forward Ethan Borgerding is a 6-5 tight end/defensive end. He said his football experience helped him deal with Minnehaha Academy post Rolyns Algibe, a 6-9 power in the paint. Aligbe scored a team-high 20 points, but Borgerding made him work for every one and still managed a 16-point, 11-rebound effort.
Borgerding found aspects of both of his football positions that applied to basketball Saturday.
"A tight end needs to be strong with the ball, and you need be able to shrug off defenders," Borgerding said. "Carrying that into basketball, shrugging off defenders and posting them up, I feel it helps a lot."
And at defensive end ...
"You have to scramble around and get to the quarterback," he said. "Trying to scramble around [Aligbe] to get a board or to even just box out, it was super competitive and physical."
While many of his players had a state championship in mind from Day 1, Albany coach Cory Schlagel said victories in early February over Mora and Perham on consecutive days convinced him the Huskies were bound for a memorable year.
"We slugged it out with Mora, who is one of our conference and section rivals, and then we went up to Perham and just played phenomenally. That turned some switches on," Schlagel said. "Like, we're kind of for real here."
The Huskies took control of the game in the first half, bouncing back from an early seven-point deficit to take a 39-31 halftime lead. They were effective rebounders all game, ending with a 39-26 advantage.
"We got outrebounded pretty badly," said Minnehaha Academy coach Lance Johnson, whose team finished 23-9. "We had a little bit more fight in us last night, on the boards especially."