In recent years, summer basketball has progressed exponentially. Instead of a select few kids playing through the summer, almost every varsity player in the state finds a team to play on and tournaments to compete in throughout the summer.
Similarly, the Monticello girls basketball program has also progressed by leaps and bounds during the last few years.
The combination of those progressions had the Magic competing in the Pacesetter Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament this past weekend, held at the University of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.
This year marks the first time in program history that Monticello was invited to the tournament, which aims to host the top four teams in each class for a two-day double elimination tournament.
Things didn’t go exactly how the Magic hoped at the tournament, but they were able to take two great lessons away from it. First, how far they’ve come. Second, how far they still have to go.
In the first round, Monticello squared off with Albany, a Class AAA team (one of five at the tournament, along with Monticello, Minneapolis Washburn, Mankato East and Hutchinson) that replaced a smaller school that had dropped out of the tournament.
Monticello jumped out to a quick ten-point lead, but after that it was all Albany, according to Magic Coach Craig Geyen, who was relegated to a spectator at the tournament. Per Minnesota State High School League rules, high school coaches were not allowed to coach their teams. Instead, the Magic were coached by former Monticello coach, Shelly Matuska, as well as former Monticello standout Angie Voll.
“We were up 20-10 right away, and doing a lot of good things,” said Geyen. “Before you know it, we were losing. Too many turnovers.”
Monticello wound up losing by approximately 15 points.
“It was frustrating,” said Geyen about the opening game. “But it just shows you there are things we need to work on and improve on.”
With the loss, Monticello dropped into the consolation bracket, where they squared off with Mankato Loyola later Saturday afternoon. Monticello won that game by seven points, said Geyen, who had to miss the game.
Sunday, Monticello, and Geyen, were back, set to square off with Minneapolis Washburn, a team that, like Monticello, has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Washburn beat Monticello by three, ending the tournament for the Magic.
“It was a better game,” said Geyen. “We just missed too many bunnies.”
Geyen came away very happy with how the Magic moved the ball during the final game of the tournament.
“At times we even passed it too much,” remarked Geyen. “Very unselfish play.”
Although the tournament didn’t go exactly how the Magic hoped it would, it was still a valuable experience.
Perhaps most importantly, Monticello got a few more games to work together with their new lineup, before they have to back off practices and tournaments with fall sports starting up.
And their lineup looks even newer than they expected it to when last season ended. Besides the usual losses to graduation, and youth call ups, Monticello will also welcome a new, but recognizable, face to the line up. Emily Gruber, a standout at Big Lake during the last couple seasons, moved to Monticello in the offseason, and will now be going to school at MHS, meaning the incoming senior will also suit up for the Magic this season.
At 6 feet tall, Gruber has the size and talent that the Magic required to replace the outgoing Bailey Bechtold.
“She gives us a good back to the basket presence,” said Geyen. “Somebody who can rebound and finish around the basket.”
It’s also a new teammate to work into the system, but with the expanded summer practices (the Magic practiced four days a week during most of the summer), plus a handful of team tournaments (including a first-place finish at a tournament in St. Michael in July), the Magic seem to be adjusting quickly to their new teammate.
“She’s gotten along well with the girls,” said Geyen. “She comes in and works hard. She wants to get better.”
As individuals, and as a team, this tournament offered Monticello a chance to see how they stack up right now. But, Geyen also stressed to his girls that it is the lessons they learned at the tournament that need to be remembered, not the results.
“No one is going to remember what you did at this tournament in March,” said Geyen. “Our goal is to find what we can improve on. That’s what it’s all about, trying to get better.
And right now, the Magic have evidence they are getting better. They were invited to one of the state’s most elite off-season tournaments. They won a game there. And they’re putting in as much work as ever.
“We are happy with where we’re at,” said Geyen. “We are ahead of where we were last year at this time, well ahead of that. We just have to stay healthy, and continue to improve.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org