Lakeville South boys’ basketball coach Nick Gruhlke was hoping his squad’s tough schedule would pay off in the long run. It did.

The Cougars concluded their regular season winning 14 of their final 17 games after a 3-6 start. Their only setbacks down the stretch were to Class 4A, No. 1 Apple Valley, No. 5 Shakopee and No. 7 Lakeville North.

“We knew going into the season that there were going to be some tough games, especially early on,” said Gruhlke, in his first season at the helm of the program. “We looked at it in a positive way, knowing that it was going to make us better in the long run. After Christmas, we really got rolling.”

Eight of the team’s nine losses were to teams ranked in the top 15 in Class 4A. It defeated Shakopee and No. 13 Tartan in back-to-back games after Christmas.

“We actually played pretty good basketball during those first nine games, even though our record didn’t show it,” Gruhlke said. “So as a team, we knew what we were capable of, we stayed positive and kept trying to get better each day.”

Junior point guard Jack Sorenson leads the way for the Cougars, averaging 23.2 points per game. He missed the first three games because of knee tendinitis.

Sophomore forward Shae Mitchell (16.5 points per game) and senior guard Blake Wacholz (10.6 points per game) also average in double digits.

“Our guys are playing hard, working together and keeping the team goals above their own,” Gruhlke said.

Top performances

• New Prague sophomore forward Catie Skaja had nine goals and three assists in the Trojans’ three games in the Class 1A girls’ hockey tournament. She had five goals and one assist in a 7-2 victory over Luverne and three goals and two assists in a 7-0 triumph over Alexandria. Skaja and junior goaltender Sydney Culshaw were named to the all-tournament team.

• Apple Valley sophomore guard Tre Jones had the first triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists) in the history of the boys’ program in an 81-62 victory over Rosemount.

Ron Haggstrom