Above the rim: Telegram's top player Ackley was leader on, off court
Despite being a marked man, Superior High School’s Mason Ackley was able to take his game to a new level during the 2018-19 basketball season.
Because he was the Spartans’ leading scorer as a junior, opponents paid special attention to the 6-foot-4 senior this past season, but that didn’t stop Ackley from leading the Spartans with 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.5 steals per game and eventually being named the 2019 Superior Telegram All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“Mason was, without a doubt, the best athlete in the area. He has elite athleticism and he hasn't even scratched the surface as far as his potential goes,” SHS coach Jake Smith said. “It was normal for him to put up those numbers. He was a stat stuffer that was very consistent all year. I knew what I was going to get out of Mason every night. I never had to worry about his production.”
The special attention paid to Ackley also helped improve the games of seniors Xavier Patterson and Beau Severson.
Patterson went from averaging 12.5 points to 17, while Severson, a non-starter as a junior, improved to 13 points a game from 8.
“I’ve felt that I always tried to be a leader and keep everyone involved,” Ackley said. “Before the season, I wanted to improve in all areas and I’m happy with how I played. But I’m also happy with how Xavier and Beau stepped up their scoring from last year. They helped relieve some of the pressure, and Beau really knocked down some big 3s for us.”
Ackley wasn’t happy with the Spartans’ final record of 11-10, but with a break here or there, it could have easily been 15-win season.
Without Ackley, who had a sprained ankle and was puking before the game, the Spartans lost to White Bear Lake 64-61 in the Tartan Tournament. WBL was ranked among the top 10 in Minnesota at the time.
With Ackley still nursing a sore ankle a few days later, Superior lost to Hermantown 77-72. Other close defeats were four-point losses to Duluth East and Tartan, which was 22-2 and ranked among the top 10 in Minnesota.
“I still think we had a very successful year,” Ackley said. “We lost some close games and the season-ending game with Tartan was amazing. That was one of my favorite games of the year. The entire team played really well against a very good team.”
Ackley’s favorite opponent was always Chippewa Falls.
“I've loved playing Chippewa Falls, I went undefeated in high school against them,” Ackley said. “They were always ranked ahead of us and were always the team we were not supposed to beat, but last year, even though we started the season 0-3, we still went out and beat them on our home court. That win felt really good.
“They’re not my best scoring games, but I always seemed to have all-around good games and have fun playing them.”
Ackley’s high game as a senior was 30 points in a 69-48 win over Proctor.
“Xavier missed that game with an injury, we had a terrible first half and could not find a way to score against their zone,” Ackley said. “I ended up with four 3s, which was unreal, usually it's just layups and dunks. But it was a lot of fun. It was close for a while, but we blew them out in the second half.”
Ackley is also a two-time first-team member of the Lake Superior Conference All-Conference team and he capped off his prep career by being named the MVP of the Border Battle All-Star Game after scoring a game-high 27 points in Team Wisconsin’s win over Team Minnesota.
“That was a lot of fun,” Ackley said. “Our team became friends very fast while we were there. We had a bond and I have all of their snapchat and phone numbers and we still talk to this day.”
Ackley, along with Patterson, will continue playing basketball while attending the University of Wisconsin-Superior in the fall.
“I’m really excited about going to UWS,” Ackley said. “I honestly had no idea where I was going heading into my senior year. But I had a really good bond with UWS coach Greg Polkowski, he was always talking to us and checking in on us.
“A couple of years ago if you would have asked, I would have said I was not going to UWS, but I fell in love with the players there and felt very comfortable, so it was a pretty easy decision.”
Ackley still has a stake in the future of Spartan basketball and will keep tabs on the players on the eighth-grade team he helped coach this past winter.
“Mason has meant a ton for our program,” Smith said. “He’s started on the varsity since his sophomore year. He is a role model to our younger kids in the program and has showed what hard work can do for anyone. He is also a gym rat that has put in so much time to better his own individual game and help make our team better.
“Aside from basketball, Mason is a fantastic kid with a great head on his shoulders. He goes about his business the right way, and always willing to learn and continue to grow as a person and basketball player.”
Superior Telegram Boys Basketball Players of the Year
2019 — Mason Ackley, Sr. Superior
2018 — Jens Gehl, Sr., Solon Springs
2017 — Riley Stowers, Sr., Northwestern
2016 — Riley Stowers, Sr., Northwestern
2015 — Superior (starting five — Nick Mehlum, Connor Gray, Jake Libal, Brandon Myer, Brett Lozon)
2014 — Daniel Gengenbach, Solon Springs
2013 — Erick Tunell, Sr., Superior
2012 — Phil Larson, Sr., Solon Springs
2011 — Joel Lindberg, Sr., Superior
2010 — Joel Lindberg, Jr., Superior
2009 — Steve Tecker, Jr., Northwestern
2008 — Dustin Ritchie, Sr., Superior
2007 — Bart Bailey, Sr., Superior
2006 — Eric Thompson, Sr., Superior
2005 — Jimmy Glaeser, Sr., Northwestern
2004 — Jesse Taylor, Sr., Maranatha
2003 — Keith Ritsche, Sr., Superior
2002 — Alex Maas, Sr., Northwood