Tigers, Lumberjacks assume different roles in HON
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The boys basketball hierarchy has shifted dramatically this year in the Heart O’ North Conference.
The Northwestern Tigers and Ladysmith Lumberjacks — leaders in the conference for the 2010-11 season — are almost unrecognizable from last year, when the two teams battled through a pair of heated regular season games and then met again in the regional finals.
Ladysmith is without all five of its starters and nine of the 13 players from its 2010-11 varsity roster.
Northwestern also lost all but a handful of players, but the Tigers have the benefit of a few returning veteran players like seniors Justin Alexson and Nolan Graff.
“We lost a lot of size,” Graff said. “But we have a lot of talent back.”
Many of Northwestern’s players are new to the varsity squad, Graff said, but the team used the offseason to work together and develop a sense of unity.
The Tigers and Lumberjacks met for the first time this season on Friday, and Northwestern came away with a 61-46 victory in Maple.
“It looked like two different teams from last year,” said Tigers coach Dave Gustafson.
Friday’s win gives the Tigers a 2-0 record in the HON and a 3-0 record overall. The only other undefeated teams remaining the conference are Barron and Bloomer. Barron defeated Cumberland 47-43 Friday night, and Bloomer beat Chetek-Weyerhaeuser 67-26.
“A lot of people are probably surprised that we’re 3-0, except for me,” Gustafson said.
On Thursday, the Tigers face Barron, which Gustafson said will be Northwestern’s biggest challenge early in the season. The game will also be the Tigers’ first on the road this season.
Leading scorers for Barron (4-0, 2-0) are Jason Balts and Zach Terpstra. The Golden Bears have averaged 51 points per game while holding opponents to 43 points per game in their first four match-ups this season.
In Friday’s game with Ladysmith, Northwestern opened with a trapping defense that forced the Lumberjacks into four turnovers in the first two minutes of play. The Tigers took advantage to build a 7-0 lead, but three straight turnovers from Northwestern allowed Ladysmith to come back and tie the game at 7-7 with 1:18 left in the first quarter.
Junior Dylan Jardine finished out the final minute of play with two unanswered baskets to put the Tigers up 11-7 after the first period, and Northwestern opened the second quarter with an 11-0 run to go up 22-7.
The Tigers ended up outscoring the Lumberjacks 25-6 in the second period, led by seven points from Alexson and six from Jardine.
Northwestern’s big second quarter also included a flurry of 3-point shots. Matt Hlina began the attack from the perimeter, and the Tigers followed with back-to-back 3-point shots from Alexson and Grant Pearson.
“Everybody likes to shoot the 3-pointer on our team,” Gustafson said. “I was just hoping that we weren’t going to live and die by the 3-pointer, and so far we haven’t.”
Ladysmith was never able to come back from its first-half deficit, but the Lumberjacks cut into Northwestern’s lead in the fourth quarter behind 14 points from Zach Mulholland.
The Tigers were led in scoring by Graff, with 15 points, and Pearson, with 14 points.
“Every game it’s been a different leading scorer,” Gustafson said. “I think that’s something we have that other teams don’t.”
For the Lumberjacks, head coach Jeff Effertz said the struggle this season will be getting his players to trust each other and play with confidence. “It’s a learning process,” Effertz said. “And we’re getting there.
“The kids aren’t as confident in themselves as they need to be. The talent is there, they just don’t have the mind yet, and that’s my job.”
Northwestern 11 25 12 13 — 61
Ladysmith 7 6 10 23 — 46
Northwestern — Nolan Graff 15, Grant Pearson 14, Dylan Jardine 10, Justin Alexson 7, Matt Hlina 3, Brayden Bartelt 4, Trevor Paulus 4, Micah Olson 2, Wes Ogren 2.
3-point goals — Pearson 3, Alexson, Hlina, Graff.
Ladysmith — Zach Mulholland 21, Matthew Whittenberger 3, Dane Stukel 3, Christian Allison 3, Doni Saboni 6, Logan Neisinger 9, Trey Webb 1.
3-point goals — Neisinger 3, Whittenberger, Stukel, Allison, Mulholland.