After opening the season with big wins against No. 5 AAAA Hopkins and No. 6AA Minnehaha, the No. 3 AAA Orono Spartans looked to avert a letdown as they traveled to Two Rivers High School (formerly Henry Sibley) on Saturday, Dec. 17.
A sluggish start and some missed lay-ups saw the Spartans dig a 6-0 hole before their pressure defense created several Warriors turnovers that were converted to fast break buckets. Nolan Groves got rolling, both from deep and in getting to the rim. Kyle Kallenbach got an early steal to feed Grant Gunderson for a fast break layup. Isaiah Hagen used two first half steals to bully his way in for strong finishes. Zach Close got to the rim and the free throw line in some impressive minutes. Owen Fries knocked down a smooth triple and Kyle Kallenbach hit a buzzer beater to end the half and almost without breaking stride, spun toward the baseline and led his team into the locker room with a 44-25 lead.
In the second half, more Spartans joined the fray. Riley Nelson hit on a strong finish. Gunderson and Nelson both hit threes in front of a raucous Orono bench. Mitchell Kauch had a quick seven points on two driving buckets and a corner three. Riley Snow launched a top-of-the-key three that found bottom and Will Fritz banked in a deep launch from behind the arc. The Spartans built a 44-point lead and went on to win 84-44.
All in all, 13 Spartans scored. Hagen led all scorers with 17 to go with 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Groves scored 13, including 3-4 from behind the arc. Kallenbach notched 10 to go with 3 steals. Close has a great all-around game with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks. Kallenbach added 10 points and 3 steals. Kauch finished with 7 points, Gunderson with 6, Brady Wooley, Nelson and Fries with 5 each, Fritz and Snow with 3 each. Lucas Knudson and Nate Chavez scored their first varsity points, Knudson on a driving floater and Chavez on a steal and fast break basket.
On Tuesday, Dec. 20, the Spartans traveled to Delano to take on the Tigers in a border rivalry game that never seems to disappoint. The anticipation was high for this pre-Holiday contest, with the Spartan fan base slightly exceeding the host Tiger faithful.
Kallenbach remarked, “It is always fun to take on a border rival. Before the game, we could feel the extra level of excitement and we were ready to play.”
It didn’t take long for the Spartans to strike. Wooley won the opening tip, Gunderson shoved a pass to Hagen who scored the first basket a few seconds into the game. Next came a steal and fast break, with Hagen flipping a cross-lane pass to Gunderson for two.
The two teams then traded baskets in a very fast-paced first half. Tiger freshman Max Iversen hit several deep first half threes with Kallenbach, Hagen and Groves matching the output. While the Spartans never trailed in the first half, the Terry Techam-led Tigers continued to stay close with torrid shooting. It seemed every time the Spartans edged out front, the Tigers knocked down another long shot. The first half closed with Orono leading 48-45.
In the second half, the Spartans switched up their defense, bringing full court pressure. The Tigers sped up and the Spartans took advantage forcing several turnovers that resulted in easy baskets.
Kyle Kallenbach picked up where he left off in the first half, with deep threes and several lay-ups in transition. The Orono lead grew. And grew. In a game where the lead changed hands a few times to start the second half, the high-scoring Spartans won going away, 102-75. Kallenbach was brilliant, making 14 of 18 shots and 6 of 7 threes to score a career-high 35 points. Groves, in just his fourth varsity start, delivered a complete game flirting with a triple double - 17 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. Hagen scored 15 points, to go with 10 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. For the second time n three games, Gunderson fell two assists short of a triple-double, notching 12 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists to go with 4 steals on the night. Wooley was a difference-maker, hauling down 7 rebounds to go with four assists, 2 steals and a monster block. Riley Nelson scored 7, Close 6, and Owen Hirt had a crowd-pleasing three-point play that ignited the Orono bench. Kauch hit a three with Wooley and Fries each adding a bucket to round out the scoring.
Riley Nelson commented after the Delano game, “one of our keys was keeping their big man off the glass, which Grant, Brady and Zach did very well. Also, our press going into the second half really helped us take control of the game.”
The Spartans, now 4-0 on the season, are averaging more than 96 points per outing.
Gunderson commented the keys to a strong start, “We have pushed the pace, emphasized running the floor hard in transition and have shot the ball very well. Our depth has allowed us to play this way because our subs are just an extension of our starting group. Also, our team play has been a big key. Almost all of our baskets are assisted and we really have a strong sense for each other on the floor”.
The hot-shooting Kallenbach added, “Everyone on the team has been getting involved both on offense and defense, allowing us to have a very successful start to the season.”
Coach Barry Wohler concluded, “We are shooting the ball really well. We can and will get much better on defense but I love the pace our guys are playing with.”
The Spartans travel to Sioux Falls and Mitchell, South Dakota to battle #1 AA (SD) Sioux Falls and Houston (TN) in late December.
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