ALL-AREA TEAM: Upperclassmen take the reinsThis year belonged to the upperclassmen. From Solon Springs’ senior-dominated team that set a school record for wins in a season, to Northwestern’s cohort of juniors and seniors that led the Tigers to the WIAA sectional semifinals for the fourth straight year, this was the season for the older players to shine. The 2012 Superior Telegram All-Area Boys Basketball team is split right down the middle, with five seniors and five juniors.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
This year belonged to the upperclassmen.
From Solon Springs’ senior-dominated team that set a school record for wins in a season, to Northwestern’s cohort of juniors and seniors that led the Tigers to the WIAA sectional semifinals for the fourth straight year, this was the season for the older players to shine.
The 2012 Superior Telegram All-Area Boys Basketball team is split right down the middle, with five seniors and five juniors. Listed below are the members of this year’s team, in alphabetical order.
As the only returning starter for Northwestern, Justin Alexson faced increased pressure in his senior season.
“With his experience Justin was well known in the conference and was someone the other coaches focused on stopping, so it was tough for him to get off easy shots as he did in the past,” said NHS coach Dave Gustafson. “Justin did a great job not forcing things and became a great passer.”
Alexson finished the season averaging 8.7 points and five rebounds for the Tigers. He also had 60 assists to finish within the top 10 in rebounding and assists in the Heart O’ North Conference.
For the Tigers, Alexson provided versatility. The 6-foot-3 senior could post up, take an opponent off the dribble or knock down shots outside.
Gustafson said Alexson also showed range defensively, being able to guard a perimeter player as easily as he could a post player.
“Justin is a very good all-around player,” Gustafson said.
Alexson was named honorable mention for this year’s HON All-Conference selections.
Before the season began, Nolan Graff was pegged as a shooting guard for the Northwestern Tigers. When the season started, however, Graff found himself directing the Tigers’ offense.
“Nolan had to take over the point guard responsibilities for most of the year because of injuries and did a great job,” Gustafson said. “Nolan is a great shooter, has a quick pull up jump shot and can get to the basket. His natural spot would have been a two guard where he would have been able to do some more scoring, but because of injuries and Nolan’s ability to handle the ball he was our point for most of the year.”
Even with his duties as point guard, Graff was the Tigers’ ace at the arc. The senior guard made 48 3-pointers this season.
Graff averaged about 11 points and 2.7 assists per game. His assists average placed him fifth in the HON Conference, and Graff also added 46 steals for the Tigers this season. He scored a season-high 28 points in Northwestern’s game against Lakeview Christian Academy.
Graff was named honorable mention on this year’s HON All-Conference team.
Gage Harwick was an anchor for the Northwood Evergreens this season. He patrolled the paint and accepted his share of punishment as the Evergreens’ big man this year.
“All season long, he was the guy under the basket, virtually getting 90 percent of our rebounds,” said Charlie Vig, Northwood head coach.
More than anything, Harwick was reliable, Vig said.
Harwick, a junior, led Northwood in scoring and rebounding and was a leader on a very young team. He averaged 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Harwick was named to the Central Lakeland Conference first team.
When the playoffs began, junior Dylan Jardine took his play to another level.
The 6-foot-6 Jardine averaged 17 points in Northwestern’s three regional victories, which including a 20-point effort in the regional semifinals to knock off No. 1-seeded Bloomer.
“Dylan became our go-to guy down the stretch and was a huge part of our post-season run,” Gustafson said. “His teammates gained confidence in him throughout the season and did a great job getting him the ball when we needed a score.”
For the season, Jardine averaged 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He shot 55 percent from two-point range and finished the year with 367 total points.
Jardine was the leading scorer in the HON Conference and second in the conference in rebounds. He was named to the HON All-Conference first team.
“Dylan has a lot of potential, and with some hard work this offseason to get stronger, there will be a lot of possibilities for Dylan in the future,” Gustafson said.
After graduating one of its strongest senior classes in recent history, the Superior Spartans needed a new group of players to step up this year. Derek Kontny was among those to take over the reins.
“Each player came into the season with not a lot of experience and really blossomed throughout the year,” said SHS head coach Dave Kontny.
Derek Kontny averaged 12 points per game this season while shooting 33 percent from 3-point range and 70 percent from the free-throw line. The junior had 40 steals and 35 assists for the Spartans and pulled down 85 rebounds from the guard position.
Along with fellow junior Erick Tunell, Coach Kontny said Derek Kontny was a key player who had “big games against our best opponents at different times.”
Kontny was named to this year’s Lake Superior Conference All-Conference second team.
Though only a junior, Nick Murray was one of the veteran players for Northwood this season.
“Nick was pretty much our floor general,” Vig said. “We had a young team and he kind of got thrown into the role.”
But Murray rose to the occasion, Vig said, and was a great team leader for the Evergreens, especially later in the season when Northwood began bringing in younger players.
Murray averaged 11 points and 4.2 rebounds per game for Northwood. He also came up with two steals and three assists per game.
Murray was named honorable mention for the Central Lakeland Conference All-Conference team, and the junior served as a team captain this season along with Harwick.
The Spartan basketball team was filled with new faces this year, but one of the first fans came to recognize was that of Erick Tunell
Tunell led the Spartans in scoring this season with 12.8 points per game. He was just as comfortable taking the ball to the basket as stepping back for a 3-pointer.
The junior shot 70 percent from the free-throw line and finished the year with 56 assists, 54 steals and 59 rebounds. He was named to the LSC All-Conference second team.
Coach Kontny said Tunell is an outstanding leader on the court and an excellent student in the classroom. Next season he expects big things from Tunell and his junior classmates.
“I look for them to put their team on their shoulders next year and take them to a new level,” Kontny said.
Any team that played Solon Springs this season would likely remember Cody Utyro, and most are probably thrilled they won’t have to face the senior again.
“He’s a tenacious defender who made a huge difference in our success this year,” said Dale Rajala, head coach of the Eagles.
Utyro took the point for Solon Springs on defensive and ceaselessly hounded opponents. He finished the season with 47 steals and consistently forced teams into turnovers when he paired up with his brother, Corey.
“Those guys, outside of anything, since they were in 10th grade have prided themselves on just working so hard on defense,” Rajala said.
Cody Utyro averaged 11.4 points per game in conference play and shot 35 percent from the 3-point line this season. He finished the year with 279 total points and was named an honorable mention selection on the Indianhead All-Conference e team.
In Solon Springs’ home game against the Washburn Castle Guards on Feb. 3, senior Kyle Vandenberghe played one of his best games of the season. He led the Eagles with 20 points to help Solon Springs to its first victory over Washburn in years.
Such play was the norm for Vandenberghe throughout the season, Rajala said.
“Kyle always came through with big plays for us when we needed them,” Rajala said. He added that Vandenberghe has a great attitude and is a team player.
Vandenberghe played center for the Eagles and averaged 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He also had 28 blocks for Solon Springs this season.